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EXPLORING Sheikh Ahmadou


Abdoul Aziz Mbacke

Leader of the Majalis Research Project and

Head of the Institut Khadimou Rassoul (IKHRA)



” Beyond the value of Bamba’s life and teachings for specific ethnic
groups, he is a reminder of the adaptability and universality of the
religion to different cultures and peoples through its inner tradition…

Further study into the contribution Bamba made in the cultural and
spiritual revival of his people will demonstrate the significance his
universal message and nonviolent struggle has for attaining peace in
the world today.”

Michelle R. Kimball

Sheikh Muhammad Mourtada Mbacke,
son of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, reading the Qur-ãn

I wish to dedicate this work to the late Sheikh Muhammad Mourtada
Mbacke, who never spared any efforts and any pains to spread
peacefully the true word of Islam throughout the world, in spite of his
old age. This translation is the right outcome of his work. Thank you
Goor Yàlla.

I wish also to acknowledge all who contribute in whatever

form to the publication of this book. May they all be eternally
rewarded thereof by the Almighty Lord.

This book was written in Arabic by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba

during his thirties, before he became famous, owing to 33 years of
tense relationship with the French colonial authorities. Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba is an African Muslim Sufi master, born in 1853 in
Senegal (West Africa), during French colonization, just after the
official abolition of slavery in the colonies. He was born into a
renowned Muslim clerical family, the Mbacke, well-known for their
deep-rooted attachment to learning and teaching religious
knowledge. Islam had then nearly a thousand years of history in

Showing precociously gifted inclination towards learning and

imitating the noble devout Sufis he heard about, Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba started, in his early youth, to write books devoted to the
fundamentals of religious knowledge any believer is compelled to
know—Islamic Law (Fiqh), Theology (Tawhĩd), Spiritual education
(Tarbiyya), Sufism (Tasawwuf) etc. His high concern to preserve and to
spread in an easier form true knowledge and the valuable Islamic
principles among his people led him to put in verses many of the
reference prose books of that time he found too hard-learning for
most of his contemporaries.

After his father’s death, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba founded the

first Muslim brotherhood ever been founded by a black man in all
Islamic history (the Muridiyya) and settled new forms of teaching he
thought more suitable to his disciples and more likely to rekindle
their human dignity depreciated by long years of political and
intellectual domination. Many from all around the country, from all
social classes, came to join the revival movement he initiated through
teaching and worshipping God in accordance with the Sunnah of the
Prophet (PBH) and with the rules of Sufism. Thanks to his charismatic
virtues and to the spiritual lights his disciples were shining, his
reputation soon expanded and crowds towards his daaras (schools)
fast took larger proportions.

Such a trend aroused a libelous campaign against Sheikh

Ahmadou Bamba, from some native colonial representatives, and
provoked strong mistrust to the French colonial power who suspected
him of preparing his disciples to Jihad (holy war). This bias was all the
most unfair if we consider the nonviolent philosophy of the Sheikh as
well as his concept of Khidma (Rendering Service to the Prophet)
which excluded any violence, even against the vilest creature. Indeed
the kind of spiritual and intellectual jihad the Sheikh was carrying on
was quite different from all what was known by western people about
Muslim leaders’ resistance. The Sheikh wrote on this purpose: “I am
waging my Jihad through Knowledge and Fearing the Lord”.
However, regardless of such kind of concern, the colonial authorities
decided to arrest and deport him to Gabon (Central Africa), in
September 1895. After eight years of a very trying exile, during which
the Sheikh wrote, in loneliness, an impressive number of poems all
dedicated to the Lord and His Messenger (PBH), the French decided
to let him go back home, in November 1902. But, in fearing his
growing charisma over the masses aroused by his success, they exiled
him again to Mauritania, afterwards they maintained him in house
arrest in Senegal until his death in 1927. However history proved later
that colonial strategies of “containment” did not succeed in holding
back Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s teachings and work from shaping
deeply the thoughts and the culture of his nation and of millions of
people all around the world.
Abdoul Aziz Mbacke
Touba, January 2009
Abbreviations used

d. = date of death.

h. = year of the Hijra (the beginning of Islamic Calendar);

usual subsequent date put in brackets represents the
corresponding year in Christian calendar.

p. = page.

Qur-ãn xx. 25 = Sũrah 20, Verse 25 of the Holy Book.

Cf. = compare.

PBH = Peace and Blessings be upon Him (the Prophet).

lit. = literally.

“The Sheikh” and “the Servant of the Prophet” refer to Sheikh

Ahmadou Bamba.

Transcription of Wolof and Arabic nouns follows sometimes the usual

forms better known.

A Message for Humankind 13
Muslim Nonviolence 17
The Jihad of Knowledge and Worship 18
Divine Guidance vs Human Strategy and Wisdom 20
Conditions of Global Peace and Humanism 24
Back to the Sources of Bamba’s Nonviolence 26
The Shortcomings of the “Short-sighted” Scholarship 29
Working Written Miracles 33
The Mysteries of Touba and of the Murid Labor 37
The Muslim Utopia 37
The Key of Murid Himmah 44
The Slave and the Servant 50
The Sufi Horse 57
Who really founded the Muridiyya? 61
The Three Founders 65
Muslim Fraternity 75
In the Name of Progress 79
Bamba’s Affirmative Action 79
Everlasting Ends and Changing Means 80
Innovation and Progress in Islam 81
Murid Grounds for Yes-we-can Attitude 86
The Witnesses of the Written Miracles 89
Standing up “Crawling” Studies 91
The Collateral Damages of Marx and Marty 92
The Wolof Boatman 95
The King and the Cleric 101
Touba is the World 107
Fernand Dumont’s Great Surprise 112
The Last of the Written Miracles 117
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s Treasure-Houses 117
Qasaid Project 120
Dealing with Methodology 122


When I started this text, it was just with the purpose to write a short
introduction in the front of the English translation of the Ways unto
heaven I had just finished. Some friends who read the manuscript,
among who my publishers, suggested me to take advantage of this
introduction to present some aspects of Bamba’s teachings to English
audience who are not familiar with Sufi philosophy, especially African
Sufi masters. I started then to expose the nonviolent philosophy of
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba and its relevance in the world today. One
thing leading to another, I unconsciously get immersed in an immense
Ocean I hardly imagined the infinite and fertile depths before—Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba’s thinking. Before I realized it, I had already written
almost one hundred pages about highly amazing and unforeseen
perspectives of Bamba’s philosophy I had never suspected hitherto,
and which would really puzzle many scholars of the Muridiyya who
thought they have already got the bulk of its doctrine.

So, this study is just an accident and is not at all willful. I have
simply let my boat be dragged along by the current of some ideas of
mine and the groundswells of some scholarly material. During this
strange trip, I had sometimes very unexpected encounters, I may
assure you. Nevertheless, I am far from pretending to put a complete
and academic book in your hands. Not yet, at least. And I neither
intend, through this reflection, to lay a claim to a PhD. These are just
the few corals I happened to found here and there in exploring the
depths of an Ocean. Well, it’s up to you to see if we can get some pearls
out of them.

Bamba di geej

Gu tàbbi geej

Fekk fa geej

Gu ne ko ngiij

Bamba is an Ocean

Who melted into an Ocean

And found therein an Ocean

Who blended with Him

In the poem Xarnubi

By Sheikh Moussa Ka, a Wolof poet.

Wave First
A Message for Humankind

Masãlik-ul-Jinãn is a book about Sufism, written by the African Muslim

master, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, who wrote it within 1883 and 1887
(1300-1304 h.), at the beginning of his thirties. This corresponds to the
period following his father's death, when he started expressing openly
his profound leaning towards the pattern of the Pious Ancients.
“Ways unto heaven” is an exhaustive digest of the highly valuable
teachings bequeathed by the old Sufi Masters, which are expounded
and explained with a rare genius by the Sheikh in this book entirely
versified in Arabic.

However, we have to bear in mind that a Sufi author surpasses

an ordinary scholar that is displaying his theoretical knowledge about
spiritual questions. Indeed, we may feel through the notable synthetic
mind of his verses that the Servant of the Prophet was one who was
putting into rigorous practice the principles that are in this book -
which was amply demonstrated later by his very existence - and one
who have got preciously a keen experience of Sufism (Cf. The
Biography of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba - Tome IV, Appendix 1).

Masãlik is mainly based on a previous prose work, written by
Al-Yadãlĩ1, a Mauritanian master, entitled "Khãtimatu-t-Tasawwuf "
(The Seal of Sufism), which content is supplemented here by a wide
range of writings of other Sufi Masters, admirably summarized by the
Sheikh. However, notwithstanding the high significance of reliable
and accredited sources in Islamic theology - which commonly
compels Muslim writers to fasten to the taqlĩd (the opinions of the
Ancients) – we must not infer therefrom slavish plagiarism or lazy
eclecticism. Because such knowledge as Tasawwuf consists not in mere
academic learning or formal quotations, but it has to be individually
experienced and lived, so as to be fully understood. This explains
most certainly why Sheikh Muhammad Bachir Mbacke (1895-1966),
son and biographer of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, was keen to point out
in the biography he devoted to his father 2:

“Our Sheikh – may God be Satisfied with him- has revived Sufism
inasmuch as he revived Sufi practice and Suluk (commitment in the
spiritual path). He composed [in this purpose] Masãlik-ul-Jinãn
(Ways unto Heaven), which is a versification of Al-Yadãli's
Khãtimatu-t-Tasawwuf, and he put in that book a great number of
rules and recommendations - sometimes summarized, sometimes
detailed - so as to let people know that it is a versification of Al-
Yadãli's book, in respect for its noble author. But there is no doubt that
[Ways unto heaven] is far richer than Al-Yadali's original text. Yet,
his deference prevented the Sheikh from separating distinctly his
personal thoughts from that text [in which case his book would no
longer be called a versification of Al-Yadali's book]...While putting a
previous prose book in verse, [the Sheikh] never failed to insert into his
writing what was springing out of his vast intelligence and out of his
heart, that is; renouncing this vile world, loving God and preferring
the Future Life.""3

Cf. Annex of the authors (Tome IV, at See also all
references of our quotations at this same URL.
Entitled Minanu-l-Bãqi-l-Qadim (The Favors of the ETERNAL GOD) in
which are gathered highly valuable biographical accounts relating to his
father’s life, some he personally witnessed.
Through Masãlik, we are given a comprehensive idea of the
moral and spiritual attitudes enabling man to get round material
obstacles and countless worldly temptations which prevent him from
getting nearer to the Lord. Thus, it constitutes “a remedy for any such
whose heart has been dulled by earthly lusts” (verse 27) and a first-rate
viaticum for all who aspire not to yield to the luring mermaids of
modern life and to purify their hearts. This is part of the reasons why
we felt the necessity to undertake the translation of its 1563 verses in
English, so as to allow English-speaking people to get to know the
priceless contribution of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba in Islam, in
upholding and handing down to present and future generations the
very "substance" of the Eternal Message. And books like Masãlik
provide us with the essential keys to enter the kingdom of this
universal and timeless Message.

All the references of our quotations are available at this URL;
Wave Two
Muslim Nonviolence

Indeed this universal message of peace and worship of Sheikh

Ahmadou Bamba to humankind is nowadays worthier than ever of
careful thought. The world today is threatened by growing ruthless
collision between Western conception of life and the Islamic approach
of human freedom endorsed by a group of Muslims labeled as
“extremists” or “terrorists”. Recently, such a worldwide coldblooded
struggle reached horrendous heights with September 11 attacks, the
thousands victims of Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and never-ending
armed conflicts in the Middle-East and all around the world.

Beyond real geopolitical and strategic or even strictly

“religious” motivations, we contend that the deepest driving forces of
this conflict are to be sought as well in the differing perspectives of
the two systems, schematically taken, about human rights and duties,
their true meanings and their limits in the universe. Such a “cultural”
discrepancy is exacerbated by blatant lack of balance and of
appositeness shown on either side in opposing their variances in the
field of political interests. Western fanatic materialism and excesses -
which led man to lose track of his own meaning and reality in the
universe - is facing fierce religious activism - which went also far
astray beyond the limits imposed by minimum respect for human life.
Every disproportionate stance of one side produces unbalanced

responses from the other side, thus providing higher levels of hatred
and misunderstanding to the dreadful escalation—unfairness always
calls for unfairness. So, what both sides need is more balance and
more clear-sightedness. Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s teachings and
spiritual perspective of Islam offer this unhoped-for balanced model.

The Jihad of Knowledge and Worship

“And let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and
depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear God.”
(Qur-ãn v. 8)

In practicing such a Divine Order, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba

made clear the true nature of his fight in a poem written in 1903, on
the point of leaving for his second exile to Mauritania:

“ [O ye my persecutors!] ye banned me on the pretence that I am

waging a war (Jihad) against you. Indeed ye are right because I am
really combating for the Countenance of the Lord. But I am waging
my Jihad through Knowledge (ulũm) and Fearing the Lord
(taqwã), as [an humble] subject of God and the servant of His
Prophet; and the Lord who oversees everything may assuredly bear
witness thereof… While others hold material weapons to be feared, my
two weapons are [knowledge] and [worship]; and this is surely my
way of fighting.” (Cf. his poem “O ye People of the Trinity!”).

Indeed, it may be somewhat unexpected to many, in our

context of tarnished perception of Islam, widely portrayed, through
mass media, as intolerant and intrinsically violent, to hear a Muslim
leader, who was yet victim of glaring injustice from unbelieving rulers
during 33 years, defending nonviolence, forgiveness and love for
humankind. The following verses, taken from some Bamba’s poems,
may assuredly show how Islam, if really understood and lived, can be
tolerant and how it integrates organically all the high morals which
lead man to surpass himself:

”I have forgiven all my enemies for the Countenance of the Lord who turned
them away from me for ever, because I feel no resentment against them.“

”O Supreme Master of the universe! O Thou that art beyond any

resentment, grant Thy mercy to all the creatures, o Thou who guide those
who go astray!“

”May all humankind benefit from me, o Lord!“

”Make me a source of bliss for all, black and white“

”Spare me ever damaging Thy creatures, be they living near me or afar, be

they Muslims or unbelievers.“

“O Lord! Lift me to the rank of Renovator of the Path of Islam, out of any
hostility and war.”

”O Lord! Spare me ever harming any of Thy creatures and protect me from
their harm as well.“

”O Lord! To whomever that is blaming me or who has offended me, forgive

him and may he submit to Thee.“

”Impart Thy Guidance, thanks to me, to the people of my time and to coming

”The true warrior in God’s path is not he who kills his enemies, but he who
combats his ego (nafs) to achieve spiritual perfection“

”Indeed, the toughest Jihad consists in hindering one's mind from ever
involving in aught that is not proper.“

”Always cherish good feelings for all the creatures of God.“

Such a peaceful and high attitude led Michelle R. Kimball,

founder of the International Peace Project, to entitle “A Muslim
Peacemaker of the Twentieth Century - Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba”
her introduction to the book “Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba and Qur’anic
and Sunnah Foundations of the Muridiyyah Order”. She wrote:

“Amidst the heightened state of turmoil in the world today, associated

with the apparent clash between Islamic and Western cultures, the life
of one Muslim peacemaker warrants recognition - a Muslim saint who
led a successful and completely nonviolent struggle for peace within
the last century…Beyond the value of Bamba’s life and teachings for
specific ethnic groups, he is a reminder of the adaptability and
universality of the religion to different cultures and peoples through
its inner tradition…Further study into the contribution Bamba made
in the cultural and spiritual revival of his people will demonstrate the
significance his universal message and nonviolent struggle has for
attaining peace in the world today.”

In another article of “The Economist”, titled “Faith in the

market” (December 19th, 2006) and devoted to Murids’ economic
doctrine and industriousness, the author concluded:

“Little known as they are, the Murids might have a lot to teach the
rest of the world—not only about how to respond to globalization, but
how to practice religion in a peaceful way.”

Indeed, hitherto very little is relatively known about the

richness of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s philosophy and teachings in the
world today, particularly regarding his method of nonviolent
resistance. Bamba succeeded in combining perfectly standing up for
his faith and for his moral principles with acknowledging to others
the right to live peacefully, as long as they try not to constrain him
violently to give up his faith. Such a philosophy warrants certainly a
certain examination so as to know its doctrinal and historical grounds.

Divine Guidance vs Human Strategy and Wisdom

It is noteworthy that the kind of nonviolence advocated by Bamba is

quite different, to many extents, to that claimed by Gandhi or by
Martin Luther King. As some have noticed it, both Gandhi and Martin
Luther King were killed through violence, although their being calling
publicly for nonviolence. According to the Muslim perspective taught
by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, this is not at all contradictory since, as
worthy and as wise as Gandhi and King’s strategies might be, they are
just human and rational strategies issuing from their only reasoning
and beliefs. Even the deep spirituality referred to by Gandhi, although
morally valuable and praiseworthy, it has no ultimate effectiveness
and a spiritual value in the pure Islamic view. Since the principle of
Ahimsa (the avoidance of violence) he was claiming originates from
the religions of ancient India (Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism)
which are ranked among pagan and polytheistic beliefs or among
mere philosophies by Islamic orthodoxy. Ahimsa notably emphasizes
vegetarianism and bans hunting and ritual sacrifice, contrary to Islam.
As for M. Luther King’s nonviolence, it was primarily a useful
strategy, inspired by Gandhi’s struggle and philosophy. Besides, it is
known that King was counseled to adopt this strategy by Bayard
Rustin, an African American civil rights activist, who has studied
Gandhi’s teachings and who was well-known for his open
homosexuality and his former ties with the Communist Party USA.

Human rational wisdom and rationality may well lead to

success as it may lead to failure or to transitory setbacks which could
end in future success. But, according to the Muslim beliefs and Sufi
philosophy referred to by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, man has to
submit his entire will to his Lord and to worship Him perfectly, in
purifying his heart from all worldly vanities and desires aside from
God, so as to attain true spiritual perfection which enables him to
benefit from direct Divine guidance.

“Fear God and God will teach ye.” (Qur-ãn ii.282)

“O ye who believe! If ye fear God, He will grant you a criterion (to judge
between right and wrong).” (Qur-ãn viii.29)

“This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear
God. ” (Qur-ãn ii.1)

“And those who strive in Our (cause),- We will certainly guide them to our
Paths: For verily God is with those who do right.” (Qur-ãn xxix.69)

“So persevere patiently: for the End is for those who are righteous.”
(Qur-ãn xi.49)

According to Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s philosophy, God’s

direct teaching goes far beyond any rational strategy or human
wisdom, and leads inevitably to ultimate success. In fact, that is real
wisdom and clear-sightedness. Man can attain it only through Fear of
God (taqwã), which is defined by the masters as “complying perfectly
to God’s Orders and avoiding all He forbids”. (Fear of God is often
equivalent to worship and to good deeds, in Muslim vocabulary.)

Thence, the kind of spiritual Jihad promoted by Sheikh

Ahmadou Bamba is quite different from that advocated by many
modern Muslim “activists” as well. Inasmuch as the Sheikh wishes
that Muslims may first perfect their faith, their trust in the Lord, their
commitment to knowledge and worship, their behaviors and their
morals through education and clear-sighted determination (himmah).
Otherwise, their faith would remain a void principle which could not
in the least shield them from being dominated by other civilizations
and from losing their spiritual strength, whatever arms they may use.
The real quintessence of Islam, which gave Muslims power and
success in every domains, in the past, was unfailing fidelity to the
spiritual and moral principles taught by the Holy Book and by the
Sunnah of the Prophet (PBH), revived and further theorized through
Sufi masters’ teachings. God promises His help only to the true
believers who fear Him really, not to zealous formal worshippers; as
He asserted “Verily God will defend those who believe” (Qur-ãn xxii.38).
Such a dialectical principle of Faith-Guidance is the spiritual basis of
Bamba’s thinking, as implied by his writings;

“[O Lord!] Impart me Righteousness and Thy Guidance, protect

me from blame and grant me Worthiness by the Grace of the Prophet.”
“God, the Creator, has guided me [on His Path] and has led me to
Him through all kinds of wonders. The Matchless Lord has freed me
from anything but Him and has led me [on the Right Path].” “I render
thanks to the Supreme Protector who has protected me from all my

Because, in Bamba’s view, that is Divine Guidance which has

provided him protection and which has ensured his success, unlike
preceding Muslim resistance fighters in Senegal who all failed to
oppose to French colonizers, because they did not attain such a
spiritual degree.

Although Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba did not dismiss absolutely

or exclude the possibility to use material weapons, in case of self-
defense or under the special circumstances provided for by Islamic
law, his spiritual degree inspired him to use instead other kinds of
weapons more suitable to his space and time—combating his own soul,
purifying his heart and consecrating his entire life to raise the Divine
Word and to benefit all humankind (khidma) so as to be guided and
protected by the Creator Himself. According to this new perspective,
if the Prophet (PBH) decided at a certain point to take up arms and to
combat unbelievers, it was only after clear permission was given to
Him by the Lord Himself, but not just through personal strategy or
human aggressiveness. The word jihad itself conveys a wider
etymologic meaning, that is “efforts” made in God’s Path.

Was it not such a mystical perspective, the Sheikh could have

certainly followed the same violent model chosen by many previous
Sufi resistance fighters who combated French colonialists through
arms. Is evidence thereof what he said after the trying and frustrating
hardships the French Governor of Dakar made him undergo on the
way to exile (September 1895):

“Whenever I recall my sojourn in such a [awful prison] they put me

in, and the [misbehavior] of that unfair governor, I feel like taking
arms [to combat them]. But the Prophet himself dissuades me

This verse is an evidence of the spiritual perspective Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba gave his nonviolent struggle, which goes beyond
mere human reaction of indignation and of revolt against glaring
injustice, and which takes its roots from mystical motivations. Books
like Masãlik-ul-Jinãn (Ways unto heaven) provide us with the vital
groundwork to better understand the basic principles which can lead
to this kind of spiritual philosophy.

Conditions of Global Peace and Humanism

However, contrary to the theory of Utopian peace and unconditional

fraternity, Bamba is convinced that negative and destructive human
conceptions are to be fought, in the suitable forms. So, unrestrained
materialism promoted by Western modern way of life and thinking
are held by the Sheikh as highly detrimental to piety and to
humankind as well. Insofar as it has led man to forget the ultimate
purpose of his stay on earth and his intrinsic meaning, because of his
spiritual and moral emptiness. He criticized such a lack of spirituality
in one of his poems:

“[Many of the Western] are devoting themselves to what displeases the

Lord. Satan has deluded them towards disobedience, audacity, and
spiritual ruin. They are so lost that now they are wandering all around
the world and have set themselves to oppress [peoples]…[As for Black
natives], they have set themselves to imitate them, through
dissoluteness, disloyalty and other immoral vices.” (Ilhãmu Salãm, v.

Such a lack of moral sense, criticized by the Sheikh, is

endangering humankind themselves insofar as it has taken them to
the two deadliest wars in history, to the latent destruction of their
ecological environment, to fashion a highly unfair and inhuman
global economic model, to promote global approval of homosexuality
and of other immoral values. Today, the only gods who are really
worshipped by most people and who are supposed to fill their
spiritual emptiness are sex, entertainment, and money. Worlwide
standards promoted by Western materialism are furthermore morally
undermined nowadays by the policy of “double standards”, as
Huntington labeled it in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of
World Order :

“Hypocrisy, double standards, and "but nots" are the price of

universalist pretensions. Democracy is promoted, but not if it brings
Islamic fundamentalists to power; nonproliferation is preached for Iran
and Iraq, but not for Israel; free trade is the elixir of economic growth,
but not for agriculture; human rights are an issue for China, but not
with Saudi Arabia; aggression against oil-owning Kuwaitis is
massively repulsed, but not against non-oil-owning Bosnians. Double
standards in practice are the unavoidable price of universal standards
of principle.”

Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s nonviolent struggle intended to

show, through “knowledge and worship”, that such a materialistic
perspective is a dead end for humankind and that only worshipping
duly the Lord and complying with moral and spiritual rules may lead
them to happiness in this world and in the Hereafter. Thus, in Bamba’s
view, nonviolence does not mean unquestioning approval of all
human misconceptions. For him, time is not at all money neither pure
leisure, as the modern saying goes, but time is worship and seeking
God’s Light instead.

“Any time [as brief as] a human breath will be worth a precious jewel
with which one would be able to buy a Wondrous and Eternal Treasure
[on the Last Day]. Losing such a time without worshipping God shall
entail great loss on the Last Hour. But if ever thou spend it in
transgressing [the Heavenly Orders], that is an irretrievable disaster.”
(Masãlik, v. 138-141)

“[O my Brother! know that] the greatest wish of the dead is coming
back to life so as to spend on earth were it only the slightest lapse of
time and to perform a single good deed liable to entail some benefit for
them once back to the Hereafter.” (Masãlik, v. 133-134)

For Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, human rights can be perfectly
achieved on earth only in complying first with human duties, which
are, in reality, God’s Rights. Because every right claimed by a human
being corresponds in fact to a duty incumbent on another human
being. And the only ultimate motivation which can prevent man from
putting his egocentric interest over others’ is faith in a Supreme
Power. Then, true humanism must start from God so as to attain
really human beings. But any humanism which claims to exclude God
from its sphere of reasoning and to use pure rationality alone is
condemned by the inherent limits of human nature itself. According
to Bamba’s religious vision, God has to be restored in the Axis of the
universe where the humanism of the Enlightenment excluded Him.
Bamba described his conception of human rights in these admirable
“Take great care of God’s Rights through your duties towards His
creatures…Be always mindful of your duties towards your fellow men,
instead of their duties towards you.” (Nahju Hadãil Hãj, v. 55, 57)

For Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, global peace and nonviolence can

be attained only through mutual respect, ethics and worship. His
conception of humanism makes of faith in God the medium of human
relations and fraternity which can be classified in the three categories
of rules of Ethics everybody is compelled to abide by:

“[The three basic principles of] Ethics are (1) showing mercy to
anyone that is younger than you, (2) showing respect to anyone that
older than you, (3) treating your fellows as you would like to be
treated. Mind to do all of this for the sole Countenance of God, the
Creator to whom belongs the Majestic Throne. ” (Nahju Hadãil Hãj,
v. 55, 57)

For Bamba, true human freedom is worshipping the Lord alone

and conforming to His rules, but it is not most certainly claiming
theoretical self-determination while one is enslaved by his basic
instincts and by his animal urges.

Back to the Sources of Bamba’s Nonviolence

However, we cannot grasp fully the true significance of this kind of
“Muslim nonviolence” advocated by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba unless
we get back to his own intellectual and spiritual sources, and to some
special circumstances which shaped durably his way of thinking. The
main referring sources which influenced significantly Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba are the Qur-ãn, the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBH)
and the teachings of the Sufi masters. Other important and
determining factors which must be taken into account are the
historical background the Sheikh inherited from his family and from
his social milieu, his own biography, his personal tendencies and his
individual spiritual experiences through his mystical relationship
with the Lord and His Prophet (PBH).

To explore extensively all these fertile research fields, we

would certainly need to study each of them separately or in
interconnection, to look for clues liable to back up his thinking. In this
instance, we could try to bring out koranic verses and hadiths
specifying the prerequisites of legitimate jihad and their limits. It
could be also very interesting to review the historical and political
issues raised by the dissensions within Muslim leadership factions
after the death of the Prophet (PBH) and their lasting impacts in the
overall perception of political neutral stance, theorized later by some
Sufi masters. We could likewise investigate the historical background
of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s family, through the very old Senegalese
tradition of peaceful coexistence and of political neutrality between
the rulers and some categories of clerical families (Serigne Fàkk-taal) to
which belongs the lineage of the Sheikh (Cf. the book ”Fighting the
Greater Jihad” by Cheikh Anta Babou). In this trend, it would be also
very edifying to examine the biographical path of Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba and its various circumstances, as did, quite relevantly, some
biographers and historians who tried to show how key events that
occurred in his life affected his way of thinking.

All of these areas deserve, of a surety, careful and thorough

examination to show how their combination contributed decisively to
the nonviolent philosophy of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba. However,
prior to scrutinizing the gestation process of Bamba’s thinking, one
may be tempted to wonder a quite relevant question—considering the
valuable teachings of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba about “Muslim
nonviolence” and their great significance, particularly in our world
today endangered by frenzied materialism and indiscriminate
extremism, how is it that serious studies haven’t been carried out on
this topic yet?

Wave Three
The Shortcomings of THE “Short-Sighted”

Here are a few causes which could explain, in our view, this strange
gap. The Muridiyya has been subject to research very soon and
substantial material was devoted to this organization since the late
70’s. However the bulk of this scholarship focused on political, social
and economic approaches, and disregarded very often its ideological
original basis inspired by the teachings of its founder. As noted by the
historian Pr. Cheikh Anta Babou, specialist of the Muridiyya and
author of “Fighting the Greater Jihad: Amadu Bamba and the
Founding of the Muridiyya of Senegal, 1853-1913” (Ohio University

“Although the scholarship on the Muridiyya has increased

considerably, particularly since the mid-1980s, this work has mostly
focused on the political and economic dimensions of the organization.
Three major trends can be discerned in the literature on the Murids.

Some scholars have concerned themselves with explaining the

role of the Muriddiya as an instrument used by the Wolof ethnic group
(the majority of the Senegalese population) to adapt to French colonial
rule. These same scholars also have strived to demonstrate how, in the
postcolonial era, the Murid order continued to perform its political
function by helping foster a ”social contract” that mitigated the new
rulers’ lack of legitimacy in the eyes of rural masses and provided
stability to the State… A second trend has concentrated on the
economy and particularly on Murid contributions to the expansion of
the colonial cash crop of peanut... Other scholars looked at the ways in
which the Murid work ethic and values helped rural disciples shift
from agriculture to trading and international migration…The
religious dimensions of the Muridiyya has attracted some scholarly
interest, especially among Senegalese and French specialists of Islam.
These scholars have examined some of Amadu Bamba’s writings to
verify the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of Murid beliefs and the ability of
the Muridiyya to adapt Islamic concepts and values to the local

Another common factor of most of this scholarship is its

ideological and methodological biases deriving sometimes from its
Marxist approaches, held today as too materialistic by the newest
scientific trends. Other biases originate from unspoken political
concerns and from negative clichés about Islam or even from some
fashionable racist theories. Such a disproportionate concern over
material issues, combined with certain preconceptions, caused real
inadequacies in exploring the key research fields which are yet
essential to understand the ideology of the Muridiyya.

This was notably the case regarding the striking lack of

scholarship on the history of the Muridiyya and of its founder.
Because, as noted by Cheikh Babou, “Despite the relatively abundant
body of literature on the Muridiyya, there is a real dearth of historical
scholarship on Amadu Bamba and the early formation of the Murid tariqa”.
Thus, very little was really known about the historical background of
the Sheikh before his confrontation with the colonizers, and few was
scarcely investigated about his family’s history, as well as about the
main events which affected his psychology during his youth. The
recent works of Pr. Cheikh Anta Babou provided essential data to fill
this crucial gap, in confronting untapped new historical material,
internal and external, necessary to understand better the Muridiyya
and its founder.
However, though greatly valuable and critical, it is our
contention that such a step in history is not enough in itself to build
completely the bridge which will help us to get across the ideological
Grand Canyon dug by decades of oversight of Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba’s true teachings. Because another serious limit of the existing
scholarship on the Muridiyya is that very few scholars have actually
attempted to study the numerous writings of Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba himself, which embody yet the core of his thought and of his
attitude, as he asserted himself: “My writings are my true miracles”.
Thus, Babou’s efforts “to render Murid voices more audible through the
exploration of sources hitherto inaccessible to scholars of the organization”
must necessarily be completed by another effort to render the voice of
Bamba himself more audible to the existing scholarship. And there is
no source more entitled to play this role than his own writings, in our

Wave Four
Working Written miracles

Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba is certainly one of the most prolific writer of

all Islamic history, as David Robinson writes, ”Bamba became one of the
most outstanding poets and mystical leaders of the last 100 years.“ His
poems (qasidas), books and correspondences, outnumbering by far
one thousand4 and tens of thousands of verses and prose lines, can be
divided into these main categories:
1. Theology (Tawhĩd),
2. Islamic Law (Fiqh),
3. Sufism (Tasawwuf),
4. Spiritual education (Tarbiyya) and literary sciences,
5. Admonitions,
6. Reminding and invoking God’s Holy Names (Dhikr),
7. Praising God (Shukr),
8. Call for blessing upon the Prophet (PBH) (Salãtu 'alã Nabĩ),
9. Panegyric of the Prophet (Madh),
10. Pleas (Du'a).

In spite of his very arduous living conditions, imposed by his

successive exiles (Gabon and Mauritania) and his house arrests
(Thiéyène and Diourbel), the Sheikh seemed to have spent all his
lifetime in writing and in teaching people. We can say that writing

Cf. our inventory of the available qasidas at
was with him a kind of second nature. In his numerous poems, he
continuously revealed his feelings of the moment, his states of mind,
his ideas and thoughts. His pen and his sheets were the confidants to
which he was confessing all his love for God, his admiration for the
Prophet (PBH), as well as his hopes, his weakness and his unwavering
faith in the Lord. But with Bamba, pleas are not mere pleas, praise-
poems for the Prophet are note mere praise-poems—they are acts of
worship and the stairs lifting him, mystically and intellectually,
towards the Lord. They convey all his philosophy of life. Thus, Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba’s qasidas (poems) are the most valuable raw material
from which we can extract the substratum of his real thought. Of a
certain, the Sheikh cannot be regarded as an “ordinary” poet,
composing verses for the sole sake of artistry and esthetics, or to just
relieve himself of some hardships. He claimed so to be rather a nãzim
(an author who opts to write his books in verses) instead of a shã’ir (an
artistic poet full of flippancy). Though the quality of his poetic work is
one of the most outstanding and most creative in all Islamic literary
history. The Sheikh chose to never write about themes devoid of any
spiritual use, because his deep conviction is everything outside the
Lord is doomed to vanish and to be detrimental on the last day. To
pure theory and ethereal mystical reasoning, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba
preferred often pragmatical teachings or pleas liable to educate his
people and to lift their spiritual degrees. Even in writing grammar
books (like Sahãdatul Tulãb), he could not help using examples
endowed with a certain religious use (instead of using as an example
“John is walking back home”, he would prefer to say “John is walking
fast to the mosque, so as to pray at the prescribed time”). We can also
noticed that even particular God’s names or words he used in his
verses are not chosen at random— all are endowed with certain subtle
significance we may do not grasp at first glance. For instance, he
prayed in his poem Mawãhibu Nãfih (The Favors of the Beneficient
Lord, v. 25):

[O Lord!] Grant me Uprightness,

Safeguard me from blame,

Grant me Worthiness,
In the Name of who that holds the Standard

Though being a mere plea, this verse can give a certain idea of
Bamba’s philosophy of life about which books can be written. This
verse implies that man cannot attain perfect uprightness by his own
self, unless the Lord helps him. And that is such uprightness and
honesty which can only protect him from Divine and public blame and
which can, contrariwise, grant him real honour and worthiness. And
this quality is what gave to the Prophet (PBH) his worthiness and his
leadership over humankind (embodied by the Standard). Because such
a quality enabled him to accomplish his outstanding work, the reason
why all Muslims have to learn his virtues and to take him as a Model.
The subtle relation of causality between these notions is in itself a
complete ideology which effects can be extended to every domain of
life and thinking. And Bamba’s writings are full of examples of the
kind only thorough examination can unearth.

The Sheikh had a very special and rare notion of his writings,
which goes beyond their mere social role and even beyond the
spiritual function some earlier Sufi writers assigned their writings.
Because writing was at the heart of his khidma (work in the service of
God and of His Prophet) and the key tool of his spiritual reform, as he
asserted often:

“My writings are my true miracles.”

“My writings outshine the other good deeds and surpass all kinds of
spiritual masters.”

“I have reawakened the writings of the Noble Ancients so as to benefit [my

fellow creatures] for the sole Countenance of the Lord .”

“I set myself to composing writings through which every believer, except a

Prophet, can be guided to the Right Path, if God wills.”

“Thanks to my writings, my Lord lead to the Right Path [whoever He

pleases] .”
His first biographer and son, Sheikh Muhammad Bachir
Mbacke, understood so well that Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s thought is
hiding inside his writings that, to show the progress of his spirituality
and of his way of thinking, he undertook, in his key work, to compare
the subtle swings noted through time in his different poems and to
collate them with particular historical events of his life. So we can
safely argue that Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s qasidas convey the core of
his thought insofar as, through the methodical analysis of his pleas, of
his advice, of his personal feelings, of his praises to the Lord and his
Messenger, we can penetrate his social, ideological, spiritual and
political views.

It is obvious that Cheikh Babou has also the merit to include in

his historical sources Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s own works along
with other Murid internal sources (oral tradition, hagiography,
written sources). And Babou felt as well the high potential of
studying Bamba’s writings, when he noticed, for instance:

“Other writings, including most of Amadu Bamba’s own works, deal

with abstract and esoteric religious and spiritual subjects that, at first
glance, may seem of not much use to the historian seeking to
document historical events. But buried in this sacred literature is
precious information that is useful in unearthing what proponents of
the Annales school would call an histoire des mentalités (history of
mentalities or states of mind). Because of their ethical nature, some of
Bamba’s religious writings reveal as much about his Sufi orientation
and beliefs as about his perception of the mores and social practices of
his time.”

The main progress we advocate, and which differentiates our

two approaches, is that Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s writings may
indeed be used by the historian seeking to document historical events, but
they must also be fully used as the original ideological and
theoretical basis of the organization he founded; the Muridiyya. So,
Bamba’s writings are not just useful in giving a better picture of his
mentalité. But they are the most reliable reflections of his authentic
thoughts and the ultimate theoretical basis which may enable scholars
to grasp many aspects of the Muridiyya today. Through Bamba’s
writings and the analysis of his life, we can better penetrate the
richness of his thinking and the beneficial new perspectives it offers to
the world today. This implies, not just referring, when needs be, to
some verses or quotations considered as suitable to supplement or to
explain particular historical, social, economic, or political facts, as
scholars often do. But it entails taking Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s
entire literary oeuvre as a whole and studying it methodically and
systematically, confronting them with other crucial elements, so as to
draw therefrom his true thought. And we must genuinely admit that
many preliminary specific tasks, which are necessary to achieve this
objective, haven’t been carried out yet to date.

The Mysteries of Touba and of the Murid Labor

Let us give just two examples, in addition to nonviolence, which can

better illustrate the important principle to refer to Bamba’s writings in
order to extend the scope of the scholarship on the Muridiyya.

The Muslim Utopia

The holy city of Touba, founded by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba in 1887

and which is considered as the epicenter of the Muridiyya, has always
raised many questions and aroused much passion. Some external
observers of the Muridiyya and advocates of French republican
secularism seem often to be greatly shocked by Touba’s self-
government and administrative autonomy which gives it, de facto, the
status of Etat dans l’Etat (a state within a state). The relationship
between the Murids and the State, which is largely dependent upon
the support public authorities provide to their urban projects, has also
fueled strong hostilities towards the Murids, held as unjustly favored
by the vote-catching State and feared by politicians. Touba’s
administrative autonomy is embodied by its property lease (which
makes it a private domain) and its special legal status of communauté
rurale autonome, in spite of its size. Another specificity of Touba is the
banning of products and behaviors prohibited by Islam or held as
contrary to the sacredness of the city—drugs, alcohol, tobacco,
wearing indecent clothes etc. Even some other activities which are
regarded as quite normal in the secular or even Islamic world are
proscribed in the holy city (despite existing resistances)—sports
events, public entertainment (outside religious gatherings) etc. Such a
specificity allowed the Caliph to ban all political gatherings within the
city and to compel political parties to move their centers outside,
because of the clashes between Murids belonging to opposing sides.

Other authors questioned instead the Islamic orthodoxy of

founding holy cities outside the Mecca and Medina. Touba’s
outstanding development, on an African scale, ranks it today as the
second most important town of the country, after Dakar (Senegalese
capital), in terms of economic growth, urban planning, population
and according to other indicators. Such a rapid growth is all the more
striking since Touba is self-managed by the Murids themselves (with
the help of the State) and since it was founded juts one century ago,
unlike the country’s other big towns which are far older.

As for Murids, they hold Touba (which name originates, in

Islamic tradition, from the Tree of Paradise and which appeared once
in the Qur-ãn xiii. 29) as a very special place endowed with Baraka
(blessings), a Divine gift to Serigne Touba (the “Master of Touba”, the
popular name of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba), a holy city which is
spiritually different from other places and where they hope lo live and
to bring about the Favors promised by the Lord—in short the Murid
Promised Land. Such an ideal view of Touba, confronted with prosaic
urban difficulties common to all great towns of the Third World
(health issues, shortage of some urban facilities, delinquency and so
on), has always produced a certain gap between this idyllic model and
reality. Some local medias exploit often such a discrepancy in using
any news in brief or scandal regarding Touba as their favorite
headlines—even a horse cart accident in Touba is liable to be a scoop
for gossip columns and breaking news! Which shocks deeply Murids
and arouses sometimes fierce debates on the radio. For many Murids
have an inclusive faith which can really not discriminate material
necessities from spiritual objectives. Some of them even misconceive
Bamba’s vision and have come to think that living in Touba is enough
to benefit from its Baraka (blessings); which leads them at times to be
heedless towards Islamic basic teachings and to betray, in so doing,
the founding vision of the holy city. Which leads us to ask these
serious questions—Is Touba a Muslim Utopia? What was really its
founding project?

When Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba prayed the Lord in his famous

poem entitled Matlabul Fawzayni (In Quest for Bliss in this World and
in the Hereafter), devoted to the holy city of Touba, one may find out
through his pleas how he conceived the model of perfect society to
which he invites his disciples and all humankind. The objectives set
by the Sheikh in Matlabul Fawzayni have always been the Charter and
the feuille de route of the successive Murid caliphs and of the disciples,
who made every efforts to bring about in Touba the pleas of its
founder. This ideological dimension of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s
writings did not escape some scholars as Babou, who wrote:

“All these projects and ideas [about Touba] were enshrined in

Matlabul Fawzayni, a short poem of supplications [Bamba]
composed soon after discovering the land of Touba; the Murids see this
work as a sort of constitution for the holy city. In the poem, Bamba
prayed, “[God] make of Touba a place of knowledge, faith and
mercy.” He also wrote, “[Lord] make of my home … a crucible for
the flourishing of [Islamic] ideas and thinking”, and he begged
that God would pour wealth and blessings on the village and protect
its inhabitants.”

Another scholar of the Muridiyya, Cheikh Guèye, wrote in this

same instance, “Touba’s economic attractiveness has also ideological
grounds drawn from Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s poem entitled Matlabul
Fawzayni, in which he prayed for ”wealth in times of hardships”, for “God’s
help”, and for ”ease“ in Touba.”

In fact, to understand fully the spiritual project designed by

Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba through the concept of Touba, we must refer
to this qasida and to other writings. We could see in the preamble of
Matlabul Fawzayni how the Sheikh refers directly to the Qur-ãn
(notably Abraham’s pleas for the Mecca and other similar verses) and
to the general Islamic principles regarding holy places where religion
should constitute the nucleus and where Muslims would find all
spiritual and material conditions favorable to worship. This means
that the scholars willing to unravel Touba’s striking specificities
through its ideological basis are invited to go back to the Qur-ãn.
Because Bamba’s vision was basically inspired by the Holy Book,
through Abraham’s pleas for a city (the Mecca) devoted to
worshipping God and which he wished to be a very easy-living place
for his heirs and all believers:

“Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a

place of safety; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of
prayer; and We covenanted with Abraham and Isma'il, that they
should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it.
And remember Abraham said: “My Lord, make this a City of Peace,
and feed its people with fruits,-such of them as believe in God and
the Last Day." …And remember Abraham and Isma'il raised the
foundations of the House (with this prayer): “Our Lord! Accept (this
service) from us: For Thou art the All-Hearing, the All-knowing. Our
Lord! make of us Muslims, bowing to Thy (Will), and of our progeny
a people Muslim, bowing to Thy (will); and show us our place for the
celebration of (due) rites; and turn unto us (in Mercy); for Thou art
the Oft-Returning, Most Merciful…And this was the legacy that
Abraham left to his sons, and so did Jacob; “Oh my sons! God hath
chosen the Faith for you; then die not except in the Faith of Islam.”
(Qur-ãn ii.125-132)

Bamba’s reference to Abraham’s pleas is quite conform to his

ideological immersion in the Holy Scriptures which leads him to
frequently use words and concepts taken from the very terminology
of the Qur-ãn and the hadiths. His constant reading of the Qur-ãn he
held in an unusual regard, and his unique spiritual understanding of
its verses, are valuable clues for scholars of the Muridiyya to get back
to the holy Book so as to better penetrate his vision.

So, according to Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s spiritual perspective,
Touba project is not intended to replace or to duplicate literally, in
verbatim and in extenso, the Muslim Holy Places, as assumed by some
writers who doubted the orthodoxy of founding holy cities outside
the Mecca and Medina. The concept of Touba is quite conform to
God’s promise to establish firmly to the land His servants who intend
to worship him duly:

“(They are) those who, if We establish them in the land, establish

regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid
wrong: with God rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs.” (Qur-ãn

Thus, Touba is not supposed to be the heavenly place on earth

and the idyllic city where all material difficulties are totally ignored,
or a parallel Dreamland where all and everything would be perfect, as
assumed erroneously by some Murid disciples. For the Sheikh, Touba
is a concept and a place where the Lord has poured His Baraka
(blessings), a parcel of land which must be devoted to worshipping.
The reason why he said:

“The reason why Touba and Darou Salam (another village near Touba
he founded) are dearer to me than the other places I founded is the
purity of the intention which led me unto founding them. Indeed I did
not settle there in following some ancestor or in seeking for lands
propitious to farming or pasturage. I founded these places with the sole
aim to worship God, the One, and to gain His Satisfaction, by His

The Sheikh founded Touba in a very hostile place. He setlled in

the wilderness and in a inhospitable land lacking in water where no
one could live unless he was absolutely convinced in the absolute
Power of God to bring him there all kinds of favors by His Will and by
His Grace to pour down Baraka (blessings) wherever He pleases .

For Bamba, Touba is a vision of society, a spiritual life plan

which should be progressively carried out by his spiritual heirs and
disciples to the best of their abilities and as far as their material
conditions allow—prayer is a dynamic process, not necessarily a static
outcome. Touba is not certainly the Utopia of Thomas More or Plato’s
Republic, where God is not the founding element. And the Murid
community are not certainly El Dorado, or le meilleur des mondes
possibles, where all are supposed to be morally perfect and kind.
Murids have also to recall that Baraka is not Paradise on earth, because
even the Islamic holy places have often experienced material
difficulties and serious setbacks of all kinds in their histories. In spite
of Abraham’s pleas and Makka’s holiness for all Muslims, the Ka’ba
has been yet the heart of idolatry and of giving partners to God (shirk)
for centuries before the Coming of Muhammad (PBH). Although the
Lord teaches us in the Qur-ãn (xvii.1) that “He has blessed the
precincts” of the Masjidul Aqsa (Mosque of Jerusalem), this place have
been tragically burnt in 1969 and much Muslim blood has been shed
in its “precincts” since many years. A blessed place, compared to
other places, is just like a village enough fortunate to have a river
flowing in its precincts, compared to other villages where people are
daily compelled to walk for many hours to quench their thirst.
Though it is easier to get water in such a favored village, its
inhabitants might never take advantage of their priviledge if they
spend their time throwing waste in the river so as to pollute it and to
make it unusable for a while. It is neither of use living there without
going to the river and drawing water from there, as the Sheikh
warned idle believers in Masãlik:.

“Well! In what use may be a sickle to a hungry person who consents

not to go to the fields and to weed therein? O Dear Friend! Is it useful
to a thirsty man to have in his possession a rope and a buckle as long
as he will be reluctant to go to the well and to draw water therefrom?
Wilt thou be exempted from the Obligation of Pilgrimage just because
of thy having sold some provisions to a pilgrim? Does it suffice - o my
Brother! - to always perform ablutions without ever praying?”
(Masãlik, v. 831-834)

Indeed, Islamic orthodoxy has sufficiently taught Muslims that

claiming our theoretical linkage to a blessed person or place will be of
no use as long as we consent not to comply our deeds with the
principles of such a relationship. As warned this answer of the Lord to
another plea of Abraham about his offspring:

“And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain
commands, which he fulfilled: He said: “I will make thee an Imam to
the Nations.” He pleaded: “And also (Imams) from my offspring!” He
answered: “But My Promise is not within the reach of evil-doers.”
(Qur-ãn ii.124)

Baraka can be defined as an unusual positive potential granted

by the Lord to whatever and whomever He pleases, and which is
ready to entail benefit in the easyiest ways to all who purify their
hearts and show genuine intention to take advantage of such a Divine
Grace, through the rules and limits allowed by God. Its opposite is
Divine curse and disapproval, which is a negative potential ready to
harm all who show intention to misbehave.

Murids must also know that breaking news about horse carts
accidents in Touba or about a Murid robber caught in Okas market is
neither a tragic melodrama nor a sign of failure of Bamba’s initial
project. They just recall that Touba has now become a big metropolis,
with a melting pot from different horizons and social backgrounds.
Too many banks in Touba is not a sign of secularism. As long as
Murids will make far more efforts to build as many modern
universities and mosques, or if they propose specific Islamic financial
system likely to take into account the legal principle of riba. Murids
must remember that, like other modern towns, Touba is open to all
(good and bad) effects of globalization, and that the challenge must
always remain to prevent this “invasion” to alter for good the initial
project. Of course, there has been and there would always be
difficulties and imperfections in building Touba, as it was and so is
still the case of Islamic holy cities mentioned in the Qur-ãn. There
would still be misbehaviors and misconceptions among Murids. But
what must stay permanent is the process of its founding project to build
progressively, throughout the numerous obstacles and setbacks of

material world, brick by brick, mosque by mosque, school by school, a
land for Islam in Africa.

The Key of Murid Himmah

Another meaningful case which shows the relevance to refer to Murid

internal literary sources, to better understand their ideology and
behaviors, is what we call the “Mystery of the Murid labor
philosophy”. Actually, many scholars have always been puzzled by
the Murid conception of work and the prominence they accord to
labor and producing wealth for their community. Much has been said
and written about this question, indeed. Many scholars explained
Murids’ zeal for work as a result of the so-called “sanctifying virtue of
work” which “is considered as equivalent to prayers by the Murids”.
According to this prevailing scholarly theory, such a work-equals-
prayer doctrine has been built by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba himself
and other Murid sheikhs to abuse their disciples’ credulity, in
promising them paradise in return for their labor and wealth; in short,
a new African version of man’s exploitation of his fellow man and a
local form of “the Muridiyya as the opium of the people”.

Other students of the Muridiyya have tried to go a bit further

than this hard-materialist perspective and have proposed approaches
stressing more on doctrinal and psychological elements. Like the
symbolic significance of work for Murid disciples to express their
membership to the organization, or their faith in the would-be
“redeeming power of work” Murid doctrine would share with
protestant work ethic. Besides, most scholars of the Muridiyya
showed blatant gaps in their knowledge of Bamba’s writings through
the two well-known and widely quoted sayings mistakenly attributed
to Bamba by almost all of them, although their being (controversial)
traditions of the Prophet (PBH); “Work is a mean of worshipping God”
and “Work as if you will never leave this world and pray as if you know you
will die tomorrow”. Despite the significance of these maxims, such a
long-lasting scholarly mistake, taken up by almost all who wrote
about the Murid doctrine of work - and even by some Murid scholars
- is assuredly an interesting evidence of the lack of direct examination
of Bamba’s writings we are concerned about. Moreover, if really such
sayings were fully and directly effective with the Murids, they should
then refer openly to them frequently, which is not actually the case
(except some modern lecturers who quote them without prior
checking). Moreover, seeing that all Muslims are sharing these
hadiths, we should logically notice the same work doctrine within
many other Muslim communities.

The Murid labor mystery deepens when one realizes that,

although Bamba happened to allude here and there to formal work in
some of his writings, we cannot notice an unusual emphasis on its
importance, in comparison to other themes. At least to such an extent
that it may explain alone Murids’ working dynamism. The Sheikh
refers to work in his books often when inciting Muslims to seek for
licit means of living, in accordance with Islamic orthodoxy and the
Sunnah of the Prophet (PBH). Besides, the ascetic Sufi conception of
life, tending to depreciate worldly activities in favor of formal
worship and contemplation, may seem somewhat contradictory to
Murids’ economic commitment.

In analyzing all previous scholarly interpretations in such an

interesting issue, Cheikh Anta Babou brought in appositely new
essential doctrinal concepts referring to work and used by the Sheikh
himself in his writings—like khidma (work for the benefit of others
and for the sake of godly rewards), amal and kasb (labor or earning
one’s living, which are religiously significant, and become khidma,
only when they serve ultimately godly purposes). This central
principle of Khidma may be considered, in our view, as the
worshipping bridge which links this present world and the Hereafter.
Since, as the Lord’s vicegerent (khalifa) on earth, man has been
entrusted the mission to build properly this world in order to make it
a place most propitious to worship and to prepare for Future Life. As
implied by these verses:

“And there are men who say: "Our Lord! Give us good in this world
and good in the Hereafter, and defend us from the torment of the Fire!”
(Qur-ãn ii.201)
“But seek, with the (wealth) which God has bestowed on thee, the
Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world.” (Qur-ãn

In making such an interesting breach to all the previous

scholarship on this question and in suggesting other ideological
viewpoints, Babou showed how it can be far fruitful to bore the long-
overlooked wells of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s own writings.
Furthermore, Babou’s contention is largely backed by Murids’
frequent references to the central notion of khidma, they translate in
Wolof by ligéeyal Serigne Touba (literally “working for Bamba”).
Khidma has also the same lexicographical root than khãdimu Rasũli Lãh
(the Servant of God’s Prophet), the spiritual title claimed by Bamba
and which is central in his work. We will not need further persuading
to step cheerfully into this fresh breach and to introduce another
important concept taken from Bamba’s writings as well and liable to
clear up more the Murid labor “mystery”—Himmah or Pastéef in

If we refer to another biography of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba,

called Irwa-u Nadim (Quenching the Thirst of the Spiritual Guests),
written by Sheikh Muhammad Lamine Diop Dagana, a biographer
and disciple of the Sheikh, we can read these interesting extracts
relating to the circumstances of the founding of the Muridiyya:

“One of our elder Murid sheikhs - a very reliable witness - reported to

me that Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba related him that the Prophet ordered
him [mystically]: ”Henceforth, educate (tarbiyya) your
companions (ashaabaka) through Himmah (constant
determination in worship) but do not educate them through
theoretical teaching alone.” [This historic order marked the
founding of the Muridiyya in the village of Mbacke Cayor, because
when the Sheikh made clear this new educational direction in the
school he inherited from his father, a large group of his students chose
to leave him then and to seek for other teachers, while others accepted
to stay and to follow him].… Then the Sheikh urged all his disciples to
seek for God’s Satisfaction, in teaching them how to bear patiently
hunger, to perform numerous acts of Khidma, to invoke frequently the
Lord (Dhikr),…and to always stay in perfect purity (Ikhlas). Murid
disciples soon surpassed all their peers because they dedicated their
entire lives and all their goods in quest for God’s Satisfaction. [In
accordance with this verse]: “God hath purchased of the believers their
persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of
Paradise)” (Qur-ãn ix.111) ”

This new concept of Himmah, referred to by the Sheikh, on the

eve of founding the Muridiyya, is assuredly worth of a certain
examination, even though we never happened to come across it in the
existing scholarship on this organization. Himmah, which may be
translated as “clear-sighted and unwavering resolve in seeking God’s
Satisfaction, through any lawful thing in the universe”, is the spiritual
turning point Muridiyya brought along in the historical path of Islam
in Senegal. Although this concept (which is also translated by
“constant spiritual ambition”) has always been implicitly at work in
the message of Islam and even if it has been mentioned by few Sufi
masters, this notion had not been previously brought to the fore in
circumstances alike. It is exactly the same case, we can say, with other
important spiritual concepts which were in the latent state through
the message of Islam and Sufism. Such concepts have been revived and
updated through different perspectives by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba.
Just to mention, as edifying cases, Khidma (Service to humankind),
daara-tarbiyya (educational and working school), nonviolent jihad
(which basic and wider meaning is “efforts” made in God’s Path),
Islamic holy city, Hadiyya (pious gifts) etc. This seems to be the core of
the mission of spiritual Renewal (tajdĩd) Bamba undertook; the
semantic update of many spiritual key concepts, for social and
religious change and progress. So, Bamba’s ultimate purpose seems
not to be really creating new principles and concepts, but rather
reviving and renewing existing Muslim key principles he found
depreciated to achieve social and spiritual evolution. Practice has
shown that the full significances and social scopes Bamba gave to
many Islamic traditional concepts were far richer than what many
Muslim masters implied in the past. Although all were using the same
terminology, their meanings and scopes were quite unlike—indeed,
spirituality and reasoning are often dependent on individual

Thence, we argue that Himmah was the powerful lever which

started up the Murid “quiet revolution” in Senegal. Because, once the
Sheikh succeeded to instill keen sense of Himmah in his disciples,
using as tools Daara-tarbiya (educating schools), Khidma, Dhikr, love
and confidence in their spiritual masters, mystical certainty in
Bamba’s Divine Favors and so on, Murid disciples learnt to show high
resolve and willpower through whatever thing they undertake. They
also learnt to see the possibility to obtain God’s Satisfaction through
anything lawful and liable to benefit the Cause of Islam and their
fellow creatures. Bamba’s notions of Himmah and Khidma enabled
Murids to take worshipping God out of the Mosques alone, and out
of formal practices and pure liturgy, and to expand the scope of
religion in Senegal to the City itself and to all social and economic
daily activities (work, urban projects, migration, language, strong
cultural identity etc.) Murids, who usually translate Himmah by
Pastéef in Wolof, have always held this principle as the top-ranked
value which allowed them to undertake and to finish major
community projects on their own (railroad building, Touba’s projects,
farming, schools, migration), to face manifold social obstacles and to
rise to the top of Senegalese social scale. So Himmah, Khidma and love
for the Sheikh (bëgg Serigne Touba) may be regarded as the true keys of
the “Murid Labor Mystery”. They enable us to better understand the
ideological ground of the Murid conception of work, in spite of the
hardly noticeable concern about “formal work” in Bamba’s writings.

It seems also noteworthy that it was essentially this same

principle of Himmah (unfailing resolve in acquiring God’s Satisfaction)
which have enabled the Prophet (PBH) and his companions (ashaaba)
in their times to raise the Word of Islam over idolatry and ignorance.
We may learn, through the history of the first Muslims, that they were
also entirely committed to khidma for the Messenger (PBH) - they
were holding as their master – through all their activities to establish
firmly Islam—struggles, building mosques by their owns, solidarity
and manifold sublime sacrifices in the Holy Path.
Furthermore, the term “ashaabaka” (your companions or your
disciples) used by the Sheikh in referring to the order given to him by
the Prophet (PBH) is significant inasmuch as it may explain why the
Sheikh conceived his mission as a revival of the original Message of
Islam given to Muhammad (PBH). Because the Companions
themselves were not taught fighting on God’s Path through theoretical
textbooks alone by the illiterate Messenger (PBH), they were also
educated through the same tool of Himmah. This may explain why
Bamba never ceased to point out the Prophet’s companions to his
disciples, so that his disciples may take them as models. “My wish is
to renew the Pure Tradition (Sunnah) of the Elected Messenger ”, he
was claiming.

In fact, the Messenger (PBH) taught his Servant and disciple

(Bamba) the same educating method he was taught by God Himself
and through which he trained his companions in the past. So, we
cannot understand Bamba’s philosophy unless we study the
philosophy and the biography of the Prophet Muhammad he took as
his absolute model.

Another question which is hinted at by the materialistic

interpretation of Murid work doctrine by the scholars is the well-
known “exploitation of Murid disciples” through labor and the giving
of haddiyya (pious gifts) to their leaders. Despite some black or lost
sheep among Murid leadership (as it is the case in all communities)
who do not abide by the theoretical conditions of use of Murids’
donations, and who spend them for individual interests, the principle
of personal contributions to the community projects remains highly
valid and constitutes an important pillar to the materialization of
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s vision. Everything which has been built by
Murid leaders (mosques, schools, farms, infrastructures in Touba,
supporting the needy etc.) was funded by individual donations of the
disciples and personal contributions of the leaders themselves. The
true function of haddiyya is contributing to the progress of faith in
financing religious activities and projects, and obtaining blessings
from Godly persons who have committed themselves in such
activities. As implied by this religious maxim reminded by the Sheikh
in Masãlik:

"Whosoever helps who that is seeking for knowledge, in his aim or in

any of his worldly affairs, will share with him aught he might be
imparted as a reward. Just the way any such that knowingly sells a
sword to a brigand should be involved in the crimes perpetrated by
this one.” (v. 179-180)

A cursory survey may show that most Murid leaders are

supporting many people (needy or kins), who are partially or totally
dependent on them. Despite effects of global growing individualism,
Murids (as other Senegalese communities) have always cultivated a
certain tradition of solidarity within their community. Indeed, the fact
that some tax inspectors may embezzle and break the measures
arranged to collect and to transfer the amounts received from
taxpayers does not question the validity of paying taxes. Moreover, an
interesting question one may wonder, in this instance, is—if Murid
disciples are really economically exploited and deceived (in
comparison with other Senegalese communities), how is it that they
are today among the richer businessmen of the country, especially if
one recalls that Murid disciples were ranked at the bottom level of the
social and economic Senegalese scale in the past?

The Slave and the Servant

The Himmah - Khidma paradigm theorized by the Sheikh implies an

interesting philosophical perspective which warrants certain
examination. The spiritual title Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba was
mystically given and which he claimed continually through his
qasidas is “Abdu Lãhi wa Khãdimu Rasũlihĩ” (The Subject (literally “the
slave”) of God and the Servant of His Prophet). The vocable Khãdim
(servant), deriving from Khidma (service or work in God’s Path), was a
spiritual title hitherto unknown in the history of Sufism. And it seems
to embody much significance in Bamba’s ideology, as well as the word
Abd (subject or slave of God) which is central in Islam, as
unanimously shown by all Islamic references.
But, in addition to pure orthodox motivations, we may find few
other symbolic meanings implied by such two concepts. When Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba was born, in the middle of the nineteenth century,
Black African Muslims were subjected to two major domination
systems threatening their lives and faiths—the traditional domination
system and the colonial domination system5. The first one was based
on the absolute power of royal classes (allied sometimes with other
high classes) over the common people, which led Black kings to
contribute significantly to the slave trade, in exchanging many of their
subjects for alcohol, arms and other goods. Even after the official
abolition of slavery in 1848 (Bamba was born just seven years after),
kings went on imposing their rule and will to the masses, through
sudden raids, never-ending battles, unfair requisitioning and other
iniquitous measures. Many, even within the Muslim leadership and
the clerics, were compelled to accept such an unfair hegemony, either
in bearing humbly kings’ excesses or in becoming their allies.

In denying any form of subjection, except God’s supreme and

exclusive domination (implied by Abdu Lãh—subject of God alone),
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba was denouncing somewhat this alienating
system and he had the opportunity to show his open disapproval in
several circumstances. So, when he was invited to take over his dead
father’s position as adviser of king Lat-Dior, Bamba publicly turned
down the offer and wrote afterwards, in response to people who were
blaming him, a famous poem called Irkan (Lean thou):

“They told me; “Lean thou toward the doors of the kings so as to
gain enough wealth that will suffice thee for aye.”

I am indebted to my dear friend Pr. Galaye Ndiaye, a Murid scholar
teaching theology and philosophy in Brussels, for having attracted my
attention to this original duality. My frequent exchanges with my other
Murid colleagues were also very helpful to integrate all their various
scholarly waves and upstream critics in this Ocean: S. Cheikhouna A. Wadud,
S. Sam Bousso, S. Khadim Ndiaye, S. Khadim Lo, S. Mourtada Fall, S.
Alioune Cissé, my little brother A. Khadre Ba, S. Abdoulaye Diop Sam, S. Issa
Danfan etc.
“God suffices me", I retorted, "I do content myself with HIM and
naught satisfies me but knowledge and worship.”

I fear nothing but my True KING and I put my hope in Him alone, for
He is the Majestic LORD who is able to make me rich and to save me

How could I entrust my affairs to such people that are not even
capable of managing their own, like the poorest creatures?

What! How the lust for wealth could drive me unto frequenting such
people whose palaces are Satan's gardens?”

In claiming the degree of Abdu Lãh (Subject of God), Bamba

showed his strong will to recognize alone in his heart the Lord as his
true Master—which is the true feature of genuine Ubudiyya (serving
only God). Besides, it is noteworthy that, even in this early age, the
Sheikh had already his knowledge-and-worship ideology.

As for the second domination system Black Africans were

undergoing - colonial imperialism which had replaced slavery in fact
- its main objectives were exploiting the natural resources of the
conquered countries and using the work force of their inhabitants.
Colonies and Black natives were supposed then to be at the service of
Western countries and of colonizers through the laws about forced
civil work (travail forcé) and many other coercive and depreciating
rules. Furthermore, French style of colonization, contrary to British
form, was characterized by its aim to adapt natives subjects to Western
culture and to enslave them intellectually, through their various
assimilation policies and evangelization campaigns carried on by
conniving Christian missionaries.

In advocating his status of Khãdimu Rasũl (Servant of the

Prophet alone), Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba somewhat rejected clearly
these policies as well and set himself to strengthen Islam, the message
of the Prophet (PBH) he acknowledged as his only spiritual and
intellectual master. Thus, all his works were intended to revive and to
renew the mission and the principles taught by Muhammad in the
hearts of his fellow natives and to shield their spirits and their hearts
from inferiority complex and self-enslavement. Bamba criticized the
intellectual enslavement of his fellow natives in such terms:

“[Black natives] who are misguided and ignorant think that [Western
rulers] are superior and endowed with natural supremacy. Such fools
are actually holding them as the overlords of the Noble Saints…Such
insane folk set themselves to imitate them, through dissoluteness,
disloyalty and other immoral vices. Out of fear for their [masters],
some of them have come to forget God and His Prophet… They are
actually convinced that Supreme Power (hawla) and Strength
(quwwata) are their sole privileges. Although Power and Strength
belong to our Lord alone…There are among [natives Africans] who are
literally ranking [the colonizers] among the Angels of the Most
Gracious Lord!...O ye my people! Awaken ye from inebriation of
sleep!” (Ilhãmu Salãm, v. 15, )

From this new philosophical perspective, Khidma can be

considered as the key tool through which Bamba intended to revive
Islam in the hearts of all the members of Muhammad’s Community
(Ummah) and to work in the material world so as to rebuild the true
and spiritual Nation of Islam. Bamba summed up his attitude towards
these two alienating systems in this striking verse;

“I content myself with God, out of all other masters. And I content
myself with the Prophet, out of all other intermediaries.”

We are allowed then to think that these following spiritual

dialectics are quite equivalent for Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba (as they
appear in his writings) and that they just differentiate in their
operational and conceptual degrees:

-Himmah-Khidma (Determination to attain God’s Satisfaction +

Service of the Prophet)

-Abdul-Khadim (Subject of God + Servant of the Prophet)

-Compliance with Haqiqa (Internal realities and laws) + Sharia
(External realities and laws)

-Batin-Zahir (Inner considerations + outward considerations)

-Tawakul-Kasb (Inward reliance to God + using rational means in

accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet )

-God and His Prophet. This last dialectics reminds why Muhammad
(PBH) is so important in the Sufi conception, as the Symbol par
excellence of the Divine Mercy (Rahmatun lil Alamin) and the Gate
through which the Lord ordains to deal with His creation. Indeed,
here is assuredly a solid ground to better understand the
outstanding significance of the Prophet (PBH) in all Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba’s life and work, and his matchless love for him.

-Ilm-Taqwã (knowledge + fearing God or worship). We can also

better appreciate here and have a new perspective of the double
title Abdul-Khadim the Sheikh used in a previous verse in which he
explained the true nature of his jihad:

“I am waging my Jihad through Knowledge and Fearing the Lord,

as a subject of God (Abdun) and the servant of His Prophet
(Khadim); and the Lord who oversees everything may assuredly bear
witness thereof.”

We may infer through this last dialectics that the purpose of his
spiritual jihad was to make Islam progress in fighting the two
alienating systems. Such a struggle was made by Bamba through the
two weapons that are; (1) fostering true and useful knowledge in
himself and in his people and (2) putting such a knowledge in
genuine practice (worship) for the sole sake of God. This seems to
imply, in Bamba’s conception, that any who achieve not such degrees
of Abdul-Khadim could never carry on the kind of successful
nonviolent struggle he was waging. It ensues from this vision the fact

that Muslims “activists” should first become Abdul-Khadim (instead of
planting bombs) and that they should have valuable spiritual degrees,
granted by clear-sighted faith and worship, is a condition of global

Wave Tive
The Sufi Horse

We may feel that, in Bamba’s conception, Sufism was just the valuable
tool ideal to renew the original principles of Islam he has found
somewhat depreciated and debased through space and time. Thence,
in our view, the Sheikh seemed far more concerned to achieve the
ultimate spiritual goals—God’s Satisfaction— rather than focusing too
much on theological and metaphysical debates which have always
divided Muslim scholars since the death of the Prophet (PBH) and
which have severely weakened the Muslim community. The concept
of “Sufism” is basically the result of the theorization of such spiritual
values as asceticism, purification of the heart from worldly vanities,
sincerity in worship implied by the third key pillar of Islam (Ihsan or
spiritual perfection). So, it is considered as nonsense to say that, since
this exact word has not been used by the Prophet (PBH) himself,
Sufism is a blameworthy innovation (bid’a). Because all of its basic
principles were in fact practiced by the Messenger and taught by the
Qur-ãn. Rejecting Sufism on the pretence it was not explicitily quoted
at the birth of Islam amounts to disregarding sciences originating
from philosophy, like quantum physics, molecular biology and other
new sciences, just because they were not quoted explicitly in the
books of the fathers of philosophy. This is more a problem of spiritual
perspective than a real divergence, notwithstanding particular
practices and excesses. Thus, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s approach of

Sufism seems not to be bound by some Sufi conceptions which have
been criticized and which have often led to certain drifts he personally

“Some who claim to be Sũfis (Mystics) declare that what they are
practicing [as a worship] is worthier than the reading of the Qur-ãn,
[the reason for which they disregard it]. Know that such an allegation
is groundless and erroneous; Satan has deluded such people - do bring
thyself closer to GOD through the Holy Book instead.” (Masãlik, v.

“Some others claim to have attained GOD's Neighborhood: the reason

for which they gave up any act of worship - so do they perish! They
have been deluded by their lack of understanding and by the veil of
their sins which hide the Truth from them.” (Masãlik, v.1461-1462)

In dealing with the controversial issue of discord among

Muslims aroused by their belonging to different Sufi brotherhoods
(tarĩqa), the Sheikh reminded that brotherhoods were, in fine, just
spiritual forms of organizations, founded in accordance with the
teachings of a specific proficient Sufi master. But they are not at all the
end in itself; tarĩqa are just means and particular types of spiritual and
social organizations, among others, to attain God’s Satisfaction:

“It matters little that a wird (set of pleas designed for a specific
brotherhood) originated from Sheikh Abd-al-Qadĩr Jĩlãnĩ or from
Sheikh Ahmad Tijãnĩ or from any amongst the other eminent Masters;
because all of them are in the Right Path. And all of them prompt their
disciples unto worshipping the LORD OF THE THRONE and unto
what is upright. Thence beware of ever belittling any of the accredited
wird and never denigrate one of them.” (Masãlik, v.1273-275)

To better depict Bamba’s overall vision of Sufism, let us use the

metaphor of the Sufi Horse. Sufism was the swift thoroughbred Horse
of Islam the Lord sent to Bamba, accompanied by the Virtuous Sufi
Ancients, who tied up the Horse in front of his door. Bamba gave
himself enough time to remove meticulously some unessential
harnesses Sufi emissaries loaded down the Divine Horse with and
undertook then his trip back to the Lord. On his way back to the
Divine Satisfaction Home, whenever Bamba found luggage fallen
from the horse of Islam during its outward journey over space and
time, he stopped. Without any concern about the color of the dust
covering such Islamic luggage, which depends on the particular sand
they fell over (Sunnit or Shiite, Sufi or Ahl Sunna), he bent down, took
them (ihyã or revival or Renaissance), dusted them carefully (tajdĩd or
renewal) and put them back on the horse of Islam some passer-by
have named now “Muridiyya”. He constantly followed the Right
Path, where the Horse’s footprint were still visible, and avoided all
cracks on the way left by the numerous struggles and quarrels to seize
the Horse. So, he went on his way.

Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s deep vision of Islam is overall and

very pragmatic, because he understood very early that most divisions
among the Muslim community are spiritually artificial and that all
Muslim sides are holding somehow a part of the Truth. Many were
just overstressing their parts of the Truth and did not accept others
may hold as well other parts, which are yet essential to piece together
the original and whole Koranic Truth broken up by centuries of
political and ideological dissensions within the Muslim people.

“Those who split up their Religion, and become (mere) Sects,- each
party rejoicing in that which is with itself!” (Qur-ãn xxx.32)

This indictment, which was originally intended to the People of

the Book, seemed unfortunately to apply now to the Muslim
community. Bamba’s approach was an attempt to appeal against such
a grim judgment. Now, this explains better the critics of some French
scholars who labeled Bamba as having “une pensée syncrétique et
hétérodoxe” (a syncretic and heterodox thinking) because of their
failure to put him for good in a definite category among the standards
categories of Sufism or other ideological schools, out of the rest. In
fact, this critic turns out to be one of the most valuable praise ever
paid to him. We may find in Bamba’s thought and writings many of
the different parts of the original Islamic Message scattered among the
differing factions of the Muslim community. This is the reason why
most of Muslims who carefully took the time to read him and to get
acquainted with his very history and thinking could not help feeling
consideration for him and to approve at least some parts of his view.
Such is the case with some modern Salafis (who are ranking him now
among the Senegalese salafu sãlihĩn (virtuous ancients)), some Shiites
(who appreciated his love and his great regard for Alĩ), Sufis and
people of other religious persuasions.

Bamba’s innovative practice of wird (set of pleas designed for a

specific Sufi brotherhood) is another example which shows his
broadminded vision. Even Murid disciples, who have not yet grasped
such a vision, are still engaging in vain sectarian quarrels with
members of other brotherhoods. The Sheikh have practiced all the
accredited wirds of his milieu for at least ten years during his youth,
prior to adopting the Qur-ãn as his only wird and acknowledging the
Prophet (PBH) as his only spiritual and intellectual master. Despite
most brotherhoods have laid down special conditions and
prerequisites to their members (which were regarded as quite
mandatory rules), Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba never consented however
to abide by some of those rules. For instance, he did not accept the
principle set by some tarĩqas to not visit other masters belonging to
different brotherhoods, neither did he with the rule to never practice
concurrently many wirds. His basic conception of wirds is these are
just extracts of the Qur-ãn and valuable pleas and Dhikr liable to bring
the believer closer to the Lord, in perfect accordance with the Sunnah
of the Prophet (PSL), nothing else. Thence, even after he founded
officially the Muridiyya, the Sheikh happened to still transmit the
other wirds to some of his disciples and to advise some new Murid
disciples coming from other brotherhoods (Tijãni, Qãdiri and so on) to
keep up their previous wirds (though there are other mystical
motivations justifying this practice). And even after having received
his own wird, Bamba went on maintaining that the Qur-ãn itself
(where all wirds are extracted) is his personal wird. Moreover, all his
biographies and all external testimonies about him agree on the kind
and fraternal way he always treated his Muslim brethren, in his
everyday life, in spite of their particular spiritual claims or belonging
to other brotherhoods. Bamba practically never prayed in favor for his
Murid disciples alone in his writings, he was always using the words
mũminũn (believers) or muslimũn (Muslims) in his numerous pleas

Bamba’s spiritual experience within the different

brotherhoods, during his youth, and his various readings, were really
helpful in giving him a positive and tolerant conception allowing him
to make a synthesis of their benefits. On the eve of founding his own
doctrine, he behaved as the bee who sucks up the nectar of all the
flowers in the garden to make thereof honey for people. Time past in
exploring other teachings and other visions enabled him to set up his
own university where one may find all previous faculties. As his
biographer, Sheikh Muhammad Bachir, puts it; “[The Sheikh behave in
the past as he did] because he was destined by God to be the Confluence of the
rivers [of knowledge] and the Guardian of [spiritual] goods.”

So, we are quite convinced that if, instead of the Sufi Horse,
the Lord had decided to send to the Sheikh a Shiite Camel (in case he
was living in the desert) or a Sunni Boat (in case he was living near a
river), Bamba would have proceeded exactly in the same way. That is
to say, sorting out carefully luggage he found in the vehicle, selecting
essentials and throwing down non-essentials or detrimentals,
collecting every useful element found on the way back and belonging
to the original loading of Islam.

Who really founded the Muridiyya?

Indeed, all of this raises somewhat the interesting question of

knowing if the Muridiyya is actually a tariqa (Muslim brotherhood or
order), in the full and traditional meaning of the word, or not. We are
tempted to answer “yes”, sociologically speaking, but “no”,
spiritually and doctrinally speaking. Our contention is derived from
our previous analysis and from the examination of some other
scholarly material disregarded theretofore. Even if we are convinced
that only more thorough research based on all Bamba’s available
writings could alone answer fully this question. Let us ask first a quite
unexpected question (scholars have not yet wondered, somewhat
oddly)— Can we find the word Murĩdiyya itself in Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba’s writings?

We haven’t yet, to the best of our knowledge. And all Murid

specialists of Bamba’s writings we asked did not either.

Well, is it not peculiar that Bamba, universally known as “the

founder of the Muridiyya order” (mu’asasatul tarĩqatul Murĩdiyya), he
who has spent all his lifetime in writing thousands of books about
numerous spiritual themes, has never mentioned the name of his
order in just one verse? He did neither write anywhere that he had
founded a new brotherhood—which is highly peculiar. Does this
mean that we are all wrong in giving him a title he himself never
claimed anywhere? And what about our solemn titles we are giving
him in our books and conferences all around the worlds? Does the
“Muridiyya” really exist in the mind of his so-called founder? Are we
all rowing in the wind since almost a century, o fellow scholars!?

Well, things are starting to seem a bit confusing and

disconcerting now, aren’t they? All right. Let us get our breath back,
and – why not? - drink one or two nice cups of hot café Touba, and give
enough time to our old brains to restart properly, prior to resuming
our eventful exploration. Well, this heavy swell on the open sea has
driven us seasick (…)

Are we back? All right. The previous unanswered question

leads us to other questions that are not less serious—Who has actually
coined the word “Murĩdiyya” then? And where does it come from?

Even if we have not yet met this word hitherto in Bamba’s

books, on the other hand we can find, mostly in his earlier writings,
the words Murĩd and Irãda which have the same lexicographical root
than Murĩdiyya. It is noteworthy that even the Arabic word Murĩd was
not coined by Bamba himself. In fact, this word has always existed in
Sufi tradition and it describes the beginner who aspires to attain God’s
Satisfaction (Irãda) and high spiritual degrees (maqãmãt) with the help
of a well-guided Sufi master (shaykh or murshid) in charge of teaching
him, of purifying progressively his heart and of educating his soul,
through various spiritual exercises. It is likely that Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba adopted this word, which is in fact an Arabic synonymous of
“disciple” or “pupil”, from his numerous readings (Al Ghazãli,
Kuntiyu authors of Senegal and Mauritanian masters). Thence, in
naming his disciples by this word in his speech and in his first
writings, Bamba’s main purpose was just to use the appropriate
existing word used by all Sufi masters to refer to their pupils and
disciples. Nothing else. Indeed, if we get back to the writings of some
previous Sufi masters, those who founded brotherhoods or not, the
common word they all used to refer to their disciples is this same
word murid. When the Sheikh refers to his disciples in his writings, he
equally uses “my pupil” (tilmĩzĩ) or “my murid” (my disciple)—and it
is unlikely that a Tijãni or Qãdiri master calls his disciples “my tijãni”
or “my qadĩri”.

Furthermore, we were very interested to read afterwards the

definition of the word murid in Wikipedia (January 2009), which backs
up the universal meaning we emphasize above:

“Murid is a Sufi term meaning ‘committed one'. It refers to a person

who is committed to a teacher in the spiritual path of Sufism.

It also means "willpower" or "self-esteem,". Also known as a Salik, a

murid is an initiate into the mystic philosophy of Sufism. The
initiation process is known as 'ahd or Bai'ath (pledge of allegiance
[our note: called jebbalu in Wolof language]). Before initiation a
Murid is guided and taught by a Murshid (Shaykh) or Pir who
must first accept the initiate as his or her disciple. Throughout the
instruction period, the murid typically experiences visions and
dreams during personal spiritual exercises. These visions are
interpreted by the murshid. The murid is invested in the cloak of the
order upon initiation, having progressed through a series of
increasingly difficult and significant tasks on the path of mystical
development. Murids often receive books of instruction from

murshids and often accompany itinerant murshids on their

Religious meanings:
- Pir [Persian word for Sufi master].
- As a proper noun, the word Murid may refer to an adherent to the
Muridiyya Sufi order based in Senegal.
- Murids are also members of a caste of the Yazidi-Religion (of Iraq).
- A Mureed is also the term for a follower of Universal Sufism (an
universalist and spiritual movement founded in the beginning of the
twentieth century).
- Also, the official word for a follower of the Nizari Ismailism,
following the Aga Khan [a Shiite organization].”

It follows that the Senegalese Murids are not the only Muslims
who are known as murid and this is a clue which shows, in our view,
the universality of this term in the Islamic world and in the history of
Sufism. Most of the Sufi tariqas agree to use the generic term of
“murid” to refer to their members at the stage of disciples. As implied,
for instance, by some book titles as “Junnatul Murid” (The Shield of
the Disciple), written by Sĩdi Mukhtãr Kuntiyu, an old Qãdiri master
in West Africa, referred to by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba in Masãlik. This
means that there are as well Tijãni Murids, Qãdirĩ Murids, Shiite
Murids, Senegalese Murids, Persian Murids, Iraqi Murids and so on.
All of them share the same fundamental basis—Islam.

There are other clues which may reinforce our contention

about Bamba’s universal vision of his doctrine. Most of the
brotherhoods who are known in Black Africa and in the world bear a
name coined (mainly by their followers) from the name of their
founders— the Qãdiriyya originates from Sheikh Abd-al-Qadĩr Jĩlãnĩ,
the Tijãniyya originates from Sheikh Ahmad Tijãnĩ, the Shãdhaliyya
originates from Sheikh Abũ Hasan al-Shãdhili. If Bamba intended to
found his own brotherhood, why hadn’t he called it the Bambiyya, or
the Mbakkiyya or even the Khãdimiyya, as it was the rule? And why his
followers did not either?

And something else which is more striking is we have not yet
read a book where Bamba asserted clearly he has founded a new
brotherhood called the Muridiyya! Indeed, there is no need to tell; “I
have founded such a thing” to be considered as its founder. Facts
convey often more than words, but the fact is, when referring to what
he brought in, Bamba never used the word “Muridiyya”. He used
instead “revival” or “renewal” of Islam, of the Sunnah of the Prophet
(PBH), and so on. This leads us to this disconcerting remark—it seems
that Bamba never intended to found a specific brotherhood called the
Muridiyya and which is supposed to be different from previous
brotherhoods! Such an perspective, if proven, calls fundamentally into
question all the previous official scholarship on the “Muridiyya”.

So, what can explain then that such an appellation is reserved

to Bamba’s disciples and the doctrine he brought in? And why
disciples who affiliate themselves to Bamba’s doctrine name
themselves “Murid” and refer to their organization as the
“Muridiyya”? In our opinion, unless later new material prove the
opposite, the term Muridiyya ((yoonu murit in Wolof) has been created
by former disciples Murid and/or by external observers who need to
find a name to label the new community of disciples gathered round
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, following the appellation this latter was
using to refer to his disciples and these adopted for themselves. This
term meets of the common need to name an organization which
differentiated itself from previous movements in many aspects, but
which functioning is alike many brotherhoods in numerous aspects.
History and sociology do not like gaps and a suitable noun had to be
inevitably coined to label the new community. So, “Muridiyya” is the
sociological term chosen to name the disciples and afterwards the
doctrine of Ahmadou Bamba. It is likely that the term has been
invented by Murid or Moorish writers who needed a suitable word
based on the Arabic root irãda and which is shaped in the similar
lexicographical form than standards names of all the known

Even the French corresponding term “Mouridisme” is coined

by Paul Marty, the influential colonial administrator and specialist of
Islam, who was initially using this word to label all Black Muslim
movements he regarded as liable to threaten the colonial order or
those he held as heterodox. He used, for instance the meaningful
phrase “[Il existe une] efflorescence de Mouridismes en germe qui
n'attendent qu'une occasion favorable pour se développer à l'égal de celui
d'Amadou Bamba. ” (There are many “Mouridismes” [in Senegal]
which may develop as the Mouridisme of Amadou Bamba). Besides,
Marty referred as well to the “Mouridisme” of Bou Kunta and of other
Sufi masters in Senegal. He also unsuccessfully tried to name
“Bambisme” Bamba’s doctrine. This reflects the general tendency to
add “ism” suffix after new ideologies, the way previous French
authors were naming Islam, with a certain pejorative connotation
however—“Islamisme”, “Mahométanisme” and so.

In old Wolof Murid language, the spiritual path revived by

Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba is referred to by the terms ag taalibe (the
status of disciple), or ag Murit (being a Murid), or yoonu Serigne Touba
(the path of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba), or later by yoonu Murid (the
Murid path or brotherhood). Although the Wolof term yoon translates
the double meanings of the Arabic word tariqa - which is a “path”
etymologically and a “brotherhood” in Sufi lexicon – old Murid
disciples were not used to say tariqa Bamba or tariqa Serigne Touba
(Bamba’s brotherhood), unlike their Black Muslim brothers who often
refer to their orders by tariqa Shaykh (Sheikh Ahmad Tijãnĩ’s
brotherhood) or tariqatul Qãdiriya (Qãdirĩ brotherhood). [This
difference may well be explained also by Murids’ greater attachment
to their native language].

However, one may recall, quite appositely, that some of the

founders of old Sufi brotherhoods did not either name themselves the
brotherhoods they have founded and that many were rather claiming
the universality of their mission of revival as Bamba did it. This is
true, but one of the main problems with Bamba’s doctrine is the
traditional significance of wird practice in almost all Sufi brotherhoods
(known in Senegal) which is not found in the Muridiyya. In fact wirds
have always been, in all the popular brotherhoods in Black Africa, the

most distinctive and essential feature which confirms officially one’s
belonging to those organizations.

Bamba “founded” the Muridiyya in 1883 (1301 h.) without any

specific wird. This moment is considered as corresponding to the
foundation of the Muridiyya because of its marking the turning point
when Bamba made clear his new method of education (tarbiyya)
through himmah and khidma. The community of his disciples grew
considerably in such conditions until 1904 (1322 h.) when he publicly
asserted having received, during his second exile in Mauritania, his
own wird (called Mãkhũz) from the Prophet (PBH). That is to say, more
than twenty years after the official foundation of the Muridiyya. And
even after he received his own wird, he never stressed on the
particular significance of Murid wird, as other brotherhoods have
done in the past. As valuable and important as he might hold this
wird, he never ranked it to the same spiritual level he claimed for his
own qasidas (poems), the reason why very few Murid disciples are
really using it. Bamba seemed to consider this wird just as a mystical
privilege and favor the Lord has granted him, because he was promised
by God and by His Prophet (PBH) to obtain everything the previous
Saints were given and even far more.

It is also noteworthy and symbolical, in our view, that Bamba’s

Moorish biographer, who reported the story and who was present at
Sarsara (Mauritania), had said that the Sheikh has received his wird
during the special night of Laylatul Qadr (the Night of Power, which is
highly regarded in Islam), during the month of Ramadan (the month
of fasting), during the year 1322 h, during his second exile to
Mauritania. The Night of Power is said in the Qur-ãn (surat xcvii) to
be the best night of the year and that it corresponds to 1,000 months of
worship. The month of Ramadan is also unanimously held as the best
month of the year. The year 1322 h. has been granted special favors by
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba in his writings. He called him in fact hãma
shahidnã bil karam, hãma baksashin (the year in which we testify having
been honored [by God] 1322 h.) and he asserted that the qasidas he
wrote after this date are spiritually superior to those he had written
before, because of the special gifts the Lord granted Him in that year.
As for his second exile to Mauritania, the Sheikh wrote that this exile
is very different from the first one to Gabon and that we must never
confuse their purposes. Because the first one’s purpose was a trial the
Lord made him undergo in order he might combat his soul and purify
it entirely through its numerous hardships. As for the second one, it
was in fact a reward God had aimed to grant him, as he affirmed. All
these symbolical coincidences are very meaningful for Sufi believers
and are, in our view, a valid ground to say that Bamba held the wird
imparted to him in such circumstances as a reward and a spiritual
award for his work in Islam rather than a classical wird granted to a
specific brotherhood.

The Three Founders

There is another important clue which may show that Sheikh

Ahmadou Bamba’s deep vision of his doctrine goes beyond all kinds
of sectarianism and takes its root in the basic principles of Islam. This
document is an interesting correspondence (found in the Majmũha
collected by the third Murid Caliph) in which the French General
Governor asked 18 questions about the organization Bamba has
founded. We may feel through his questions that the French Governor
was regarding the Muridiyya like the other brotherhoods practiced in
Black Africa and which originated first from old Arab Sufis and which
were just spread locally by Black masters representing them in
Senegal. Through the answers given by the Sheikh, we can better
understand his own vision of the Muridiyya (which is, in his view, a
synthesis and a revival of Islam) and his etymologic conception of this
tariqa (which is just the kingly spiritual path of Islam leading towards

“These following questions are asked by the General Governor of

Saint-Louis (Senegal) to the great Sheikh [Ahmadou Bamba]:
Question 1: Who is the initial founder of the Muridiyya order?
Question 2: When was born this first founder of the tariqa?
Question 3: Where was he born exactly?
Question 4: Who were his first disciples?

Question 5: What are the main motivations which led him to found
this tariqa?
Question 6: What are the cities he was travelling through?
Question 7: Where did he die?
Question 8: Which communities are still faithful to the initial tariqa?
Question 9: Who is the first master who introduced this tariqa in
Western Africa?
Question 10: From which area exactly this tariqa penetrated Africa?
Question 11: What is the present epicenter of this order where most of
its followers are gathered?
Question 12: Which people were first converted by the founder of this
tariqa ?
Question 13: What is the history of this brotherhood?
Question 14: Who are the current leaders of this tariqa?
Question 15: Where did their present leader [you are] originate from?
Question 16: When did he convert to this tariqa?
Question 17: Who has converted him?
Question 18: What can he say about his own case?

[Answers of the Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba]

In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
“Say: He is God, the One and Only.
God, the Eternal, Absolute
He begetteth not, nor is He begotten
And there is none like unto Him” (Qur-ãn cxiv)

Question 1: Who is the initial founder of the Muridiyya order?

Answer: This Path has been initiated by these [three founders]:
- Faith in God (Iman) through absolute conviction in God’s
Unity (Tawhĩd)
- Submission to God (Islãm) through worshipping
practices in accordance with the rules of Islamic Law (Fiqh)
- Spiritual Perfection (Ihsãn) through sincere worship
allowed by [the rules of] Sufism

Questions 2 and 3: When was born this first founder of the tariqa and
where was he born exactly?
Answer: Whenever and wherever a Muslim was born, this Path was
born again in such a place.

Question 4: Who were his first disciples?

Answer: All who aspire to get [religious] knowledge and who are
seeking for it.

Question 5: What are the main motivations which led him to found
this tariqa?
Answer: The main principle of this Path is the exclusive Face of God,
the Honorable.

Question 6: What are the cities he was travelling through?

Answer: Every country where Muslims are living is among these

Question 7: Where did he die?

Answer: Every place where a pillar of the different spiritual paths

Question 8: Which community are still faithful to the initial tariqa?

Answer: All who conform to the rules of
- Faith in God (Mũminũn),
- Worshipping God (Muslimũn),
- And Spiritual Perfection (Muhsinũn).

Question 9: Who is the first master who introduced this tariqa in

Western Africa?
Answer: That are [the three founders of the main tariqas]; Sheikh
Abdul Qadĩr Jĩlãni, Sheikh Abul Hasan Shãdhali, and Sheikh Ahmad
Tĩjãn (may God be Satisfied with them all).

Question 10: From which area exactly this tariqa has penetrated in
Answer: This Path was introduced [in Africa] by the Great Masters
who have attained God – Blessed and Exalted – and who made people
attain Him, wherever they may be.
Question 11: What is the present epicenter of this order where most of
its followers are gathered?
Answer: We have to acknowledge that nowadays there is no longer a
place where genuine followers of this original Path are gathered.

Question 12: Which people were first converted by the founder of this
tariqa ?
Answer: These people are all who are seeking sincerely the
Countenance of God, from the time of the Prophet (PBH) to the
Virtuous Ancients until today.

Question 13: What is the history of this tariqa?

Answer: It began from the Hegira of the Prophet (PBH) until [this
present moment] 1345 h. (1926).

Question 14: Who are the current leaders of this tariqa?

Answer: There is no longer a true leader of this Path.

Question 15: Where did their present leader [you are] originate from?
Answer: The forebears of who that is answering these questions
[myself] were believers (mũminũn), worshippers (muslimũn) and
sincere in their worship (muhsinũn).

Questions 16, 17 and 18: When did he convert to this tariqa? Who has
converted him? What can he say about his own case?
Answer: Such a Path was transmitted to me by masters I thought
first authentic, which proved to be false. God – Blessed and Exalted –
decided to exile me to the sea [Gabon] and to grant me, during this
exile, the three main wirds (Qãdiriyyah, Shadhaliyyah and
Tijãniyyah) through the Prophet (PBH) himself, without any other
mediator, due to the numerous actions of Khidma I was performing in
his Service. Afterwards, God Himself – Blessed and Exalted –
entrusted to me the Qur-ãn and Islam. And assuredly “God is a
witness to what we say." (Qur-ãn xxviii.28)”

From all of this, we may contend that, ideologically speaking,
Bamba’s deep view of Islam goes beyond founding a formal and
distinctive brotherhood, and that the “Muridiyya” is not a
brotherhood, in the traditional meaning, if we refer to the intentions
and to the basic spiritual project of the Servant of the Prophet. It is
rather a doctrine intended to revive and to renew the pristine message
of Islam and to adapt it to space and time.

However, if we consider strictly certain perceptible

sociological aspects, we will notice that this doctrine has taken on the
features of a formal Sufi brotherhood, in many extents. The reason
why it is not a mistake, in our view, to treat it sociologically as a Sufi
order (tarĩqa), as all scholars are compelled to do, provided one bears
in mind its doctrinal basis which excludes any kind of deliberate
limitation or exclusion within the Muslim community. In fact, such
ambivalence originates from Bamba’s synthetic approach of Islam we
discussed earlier. Because, although the deep spiritual project of
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba is to renew Islam, he was also convinced
that the Sufi Horse is fully endowed with all the features which can
enable him to realize his project. Brotherhoods have always been the
sociological forms which have played a key part in spreading Islam in
West Africa and which were more likely to adapt to their cultural
milieu, despite certain problems. This is one of the reasons why
Bamba and his disciples adopted naturally this organizational form
which corresponds better to their objectives and which is more
conform to their conception of Sufism and Islam. In this regard, what
we called “Muridiyya” is just the group of Muslims who have openly
acknowledged the spiritual value of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba and
who commit themselves to carry out his vision and projects through
khidma (or ligéeyal Serigne Touba in Wolof).

In fact, Murids have replicated all the features of the standard

brotherhoods they regard as useful for attaining their particular
objectives. Sometimes they have adapted some of these features
according to specific considerations or visions. This is the case, for
instance, with the pyramidal structure of the order, characterized by
the hierarchical stratification of clerics related, through bloody ties or
allegiance, to Bamba or to one of his renowned disciples. In addition
to the widely discussed theme of Baraka-laden sheikhs common to
many tariqas, the principle of appointing a sheikh (seexal in Wolof) in
the Muridiyya seems rather to be originally and essentially driven by
two main concerns—(1) competences transfer and (2) tasks sharing
out. This particularity is somewhat due to the central place of khidma
in the Muridiyya. Unlike other traditional wird-centered tariqas
where the nomination of a new sheikh involves often a certain
ceremonial (wearing a symbolic turban or cloak, receiving a stick, or a
written ijãza which is an official authorization to transmit the wird),
the seexal process is less implicit in the Muridiyya. Besides hereditary
dimensions common to all Sufi orders, the status of sheikh is
primarily indicated by the level of responsibility and the signs of
confidence shown by Bamba (or by another sheikh) to one of his
disciples—the order to found a new village, to teach schools, leading
important works and so on. This explains why Bamba never
consecrated officially and formally any Murid sheikh. Disciples who
are formerly treated and held as sheikhs in the Muridiyya are those
who have been given high responsibilities or a certain autonomy
(wàcce) or publicly praised (ngërëm) for their merits by Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba. So, this position was initially endowed with two
dimensions that are linked; mystical (relating to Baraka) and merely
organizational. These two dimensions are interlinked in the
Muridiyya, because abilities and full commitment to khidma are
regarded as a kingly source of baraka Such an informal mode of
nomination, in stressing on the value of measurable merit, has given
to the Muridiyya much social flexibility and mobility within the
traditional hierarchy of social classes, in spite of drawbacks aroused
sometimes by some who can proclaim themselves sheikhs out of any
control. But, combined with Bamba’s principles of “affirmative action”
(we will discuss further), this system allowed some disciples from
humble backgrounds to raise, thanks to their work, to very prominent
positions within the order.

This sociological dimension of Bamba’s doctrine of revival,

called “the Muridiyya order”, can be likened to a company (a building
firm for instance) in charge of carrying out the projects of its founder.
The main projects entrusted to this company by the founder is to
build mosques, schools and other urban facilities likely to renew his
native city (Islam). The founder is very conscious that, without a well-
organized and structured company, made up of really motivated staff
(Murid disciples), his noble and great objectives would remain dead
letter—the reason why he set up different departments within the
company (work sharing in the Muridiyya) and appointed managers
(sheikhs) at their heads. A General manager (Caliph) is in charge of
supervising all activities, in collaboration with the board of directors
(local caliphs), chiefs departments (sheikhs and jëwrign), and staff
(Murid disciples). Chiefs departments can be concurrently involved in
other departments activities. Among the company departments
initially set up by the founder himself there are :
-Training Department, in charge of educating and forming future
staff, in training centres (daaras) led by proficient teachers like
Serigne Ndame Abdou Rahmane Lo, Serigne Mbacke Bousso and
other sheikhs.
-Administrative Department, in charge of coordinating all activities
and of representing the founder before third party, led by Mame
Thierno Ibra Faty (Bamba’s right-hand man) and other sheikhs.
-Accounts and Financial Department, in charge of collecting and
managing funds—acquisition of holdings (haddiya), salaries,
investments and profit sharing. This department was led by Mame
Sheikh Anta, Massourang and other sheikhs.
-Operations Department, in charge of supervising all technical
activities and manual work on the site, led by Mame Cheikh
Ibrahima Fall, Serigne Mandoumbe and other sheikhs. In addition to
these key departments, other have been added in accordance with
the company growth.

In order to grow and to attain its basic objective (which is

building the Islamic City, even if funds can be partially used to pay
salaries and to remunerate investments), standard conditions of good
management must be met. Thus the company must be run by
qualified and genuine managers (good sheikhs), chiefs managers and
staff must all abide by company rules and charter (Bamba’s

teachings), staff have to be constantly motivated (himmah) and fully
committed in their jobs (khidma), they should be also convinced in
their real prospects of (social and spiritual) promotion according to
their level of khidma. Managers must always remember that staff
(disciples) under their supervision and control are hired by the
company itself, and their work and means (as other current assets) are
to be devoted to the company’s objectives, but not to personal
interests. Potential elements which can slow down the company
growth are unqualified or disloyal managers (deceitful sheikhs),
mismanagement of some unskilled heirs who inherited free shares
from the founder or positions from their relatives, demotivated staff
(without himmah and khidma), disregard for company rules,
embazzlings and use of the company means (haddiya) for external
purposes etc. The Muridiyya Company was so successful that it has
set up international branches (dahiras) where its activities are
currently performed as well.

Such an image, which captures many aspects of the running

and structuring of the Murid order, implies the difference to be made
between Bamba’s doctrine (embodied by the company objectives, and
what is commonly called ag murit or Irada) relating to renew original
Islamic principles and the organization, in the form of a brotherhood
(embodied by the company and its management - what is commonly
called yoonu murit or Muridiyya), in charge of carrying out this
doctrine. Though this organization may be considered as just a tool, a
particular method, to achieve such main objectives, it would remain
really significant and even vital as long as it performs the mission
assigned to it. However, like any method, this company can experience
all problems, misconducts and conflicts inherent to human
communities and which explain why a human resources department is
always necessary within a big company. Though many organizational
and managerial methods have evolved since the founder had passed
away, they must be constantly upgraded according to new
circumstances and realities of global large-scale firms.

Muslim Fraternity

Bamba’s conception of Islam and of Muslim Community is an overall
perspective, excluding all political, ideological, racial or semantic
divisions created by historical differing approaches. For Bamba,
although all Muslims are not alike and well-guided, to every extent,
most categorizations are artificial. Some Muslims claimed for
themselves to be the true Ahl Sunnah (People attached to the Authentic
Sunnah) out of the others, though any lucid Muslim would never
consent to be excluded from this circle. Sufism, Sunnism, Salafism and
the like are just cross-meaning notions, since any well-balanced Sufi
would never accept to be out the Sunnah of Muhammad (PBH),
likewise any clear-sighted Sunni would never decline to have his
heart perfectly purified as theorized by Sufis, and all of them are
claiming their respect and fidelity to the Virtuous Ancients (Salaf). All
true Muslims have fundamentally the same goals, and they only differ
in their methods, their accredited sources and the outcomes of their
perspectives (in spite of misguided tendencies and excesses
sometimes). Notwithstanding this ultimate unity, each side would not
in the least hesitate to treat as their deadly enemies other Muslims
who do not share their perspectives and to label them as unbelievers
(kãfirũn), or giving partners to God (mushrikũn), or hypocrites
(munãfiqũn). Today Muslims are ready to kill other Muslims and to
throw bombs in mosques full of other believers, during Friday prayer,
just because other Muslims are not sharing their ideological views.
Bamba’s vision of Muslim fraternity, in spite of all their real doctrinal
differences and cultural diversities, can be summed up in these two

“Never consider as an enemy anyone you hear proclaiming that there is no

other god but Allah.”

“Do love every Muslim for his faith in God.”

When praying for good and mercy for his Muslim brothers,
the Sheikh never made distinction between Sufis, Shiite, Sunni and
any other Muslim persuasions, as shown by his pleas in Matlabu Shifai
(Seeking for Remedy):

“[O Lord!] Provide Thy remedy to all Muslims, in this world and in the
Hereafter, and protect them from fear and sorrow on the Beyond.

Grant them salvation and forgiveness, treat them with benevolence and
never show resentment against them for their numerous wrongdoings.

O Thou the Only One! Even if they disobey Thy orders out of heedlessness,
know that [in their inmost hearts] they assign no partners to Thee.

And it is obvious that their weak bodies cannot in the least bear Thy ordeals.

[In spite of their numerous transgressions] their hearts will never turn
towards someone else but Thee.

However, the inclination of their members for worldly pleasures has led them
to the basest acts.

Do not punish them for their [own errors] which could in the least depreciate
Thy Grandeur, and grant them Thy [favors] which are of no use to Thee.

O Lord! Thou who can reverse the hearts, turn our hearts away from vices.

Inspire us love for all Muslims and protect us from evil aroused by

Make of all Muslims our beloved brethren—so will we be safeguarded from


Guide to the Right Way all Muslims, men and women, and forgive all their
sins in the Last Day.”

This kind of tolerance and love transcends all social and racial
considerations, and focus on the spiritual and moral value of the
individual, in acknowledging humbly that only God may ultimately
judge His servants and in reminding that we are not even sure of our
moral superiority and of our salvation once before the Lord.
Wave Six
In the Name of PROGRESS

Bamba’s Affirmative Action

This open-minded philosophy of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba is likewise

extended to other social divisions. Bamba’s writings as well as his
very life have shown that the only criterion by which man must be
judged is his moral value. Accordingly, he never agreed to conform to
the rules of social stratification of the Wolof ethnic group, which
reserves some particular works to certain classes and castes out of the
others. Thus, the Sheikh did not hesitate to entrust to disciples of
noble descent tasks which were traditionally considered as devoted
alone to lower classes (like handicrafts), or to raise deserving Murids
from humble background to high functions in the community (like
teaching, or being a sheikh at the head of disciples from all classes and
all ethnic groups).

Such a policy of “equal opportunities” and “affirmative

action”, despite still enduring social resistances today, extended to
woman status in Wolof society. All Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s
daughters received a good education and were all taught the Holy
Qur-ãn and religious sciences. What is amply proven by the
numerous and fine poems some of them wrote, as well as in Arabic
and Wolof (Sokhna Maïmounatoul Kabir, Sokhna Amy Sheikh,
Sokhna Maïmounatoul Sakhir etc.) There is no need to say that this

was very unusual in the class of doomi sokhna (Wolof religious
aristocracy). Bamba’s daughters had also the rare priviledge to have
their own disciples (men and women), just like other male sheikhs—
which is a big first in Senegalese recent male-dominated history. Some
of them (like Sokhna Mouslimatou) set up very ambitious self-
managed food production units. An evidence of the spiritual
advancement the Muridiyya promoted for women in Senegal is the
high regard Murids are holding Bamba’s daughters and mother.
Indeed, Sokhna Diaara is one of the rare women in Western Africa to
whom a commemoration (Màggal) is dedicated, at Porokhane (South
Senegal), where thousands of devotees gathered every year to pay her
tribute. So, even if Islamic conception of household and of gender-
based sharing out remains essentially different from Western
individualistic and libertarian vision, we may find through Bamba’s
teachings, inspired by the Prophet’s life (PBH), valuable clues and
enough ground to give more significance to woman gender today,
within the limits set by the Lord and by nature however.

Everlasting Ends and Changing Means

In fact such an interesting potential of social progress, in Bamba’s

thinking, is an outcome of his dynamic approach of religion. In
claiming his adherence to Sufism, the Sheikh began, as usual in his
time, by subscribing to most of the teachings taken from the
accredited Sufi masters of his youth. But he progressively freed
himself of their spiritual and intellectual tutorship. This is why he
undertook to redefine many social and spiritual traditional concepts
he was taught before and imposed boldly new definitions and new
perspectives his milieu was not really accustomed to. This explains
also why the quality and the import of his writings have made
significant progress the further he discovered new prospects and

Though referring often to the Virtuous Ancients (Salafu

Sãlihĩn), particularly in his first writings, Bamba cannot be however
labeled as a Salafi, in every sense. Insofar as he claimed that, as
valuable as the teachings of the Pious Forefathers may be, he felt
completely free to change whatever method they provided him with,
whenever he realized that such methods are no longer suitable to his
own space and time. Bamba’s intellectual and spiritual approach
differentiates well between mere methods (often subject to progress
and change according to space and time) and spiritual aims (which are
fundamental and often static, as the immutable importance of
knowledge and worship). So, all methods are doomed to be updated
and to upgrade one day, as long as all conditions regarded as
compulsory are gathered—telling religious essentials from non-
essentials, differentiating what is really relating to faith from mere
traditions, proving that suggested updates are spiritually and
materially better than existing methods, appointing proficient and
righteous masters entitled alone to deliver authoritative advice,
enforcing changes with great skills and in accordance with the specific
realities of the milieu.

On second thoughts, this conception seems to be more

conform to the Islamic principle of progress shown by the adaptation
and the update of many verses of the Qur-ãn, according to different
sociological and geopolitical situations. This dynamics-and-statics
dialectics is, to some extent, what other African authors, like Senghor,
called later enracinement et ouverture (rooting and opening up). Indeed,
such a principle of Tajdĩd (Renewal) is vital to grasp the vitality of
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s philosophy and its high potential for
progress and adaptability. On one hand, we may say that Bamba is a
conservative (muhãfiz) as far as moral and spiritual principles are
concerned, but he is in the same time a renovator (mujadid) regarding
methods and their necessary flexibility. This is one of the ideological
clues, in our view, which are likely to answer to the old disturbing
question of many scholars, “What can explain the unusual ability of
the Muridiyya to maintain cohesion and continuity across space and
time, and to adapt to changing factors?”

Innovation and Progress in Islam

Here are a few examples which may illustrate the social and
intellectual progressivism of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s thought. In
traditional Senegalese Muslim society, everything from the past and
from the ancestors was almost regarded as naturally sacred. Imitating
the Ancients and respecting their opinions at the point of making
them sacred, is assuredly a common denominator of all societies in
decline. That was the case at the time of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba.
Therefore, any opinion which came from the Virtuous Ancients was
often held as correct and undeniable. As for the contemporaries, their
sole roles were to explain such opinions and to defend them. Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba invited his contemporaries to go beyond such a
follow-my-ancestor attitude and he wrote in this instance:

“Do not think that the Divine grace is just reserved to the Ancients.
For, a man living in present times may well know secrets which were
ignored by men living in old times.

And may not my low renown in this generation divert thee from
giving credit to this [book].” (Masãlik, v. 51-52,46)

There is no need to say that such an attitude was not at all usual
in that time. Another example of the modernity of Bamba’s thinking is
the new teachings aids and methods he dared to bring in West African
traditional educational system, mainly based on textbooks and
theoretical instruction. Conscious that many were condemned to stay
out of the realm of true knowledge by their inability to be given
textbook instruction, and that such a method was just one method
among others, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba innovated in updating
Senegalese daara (school) model. He created, along with the
traditional theoretical schools, the daara tarbiya (center for practical
education and training through work and spiritual exercises) run by
educated instructors. To such disciples who were under his direct
authority, and who were not receptive to textbook teaching (or not),
he gave practical education and oral teaching in Wolof language,
using various illustration methods to convey his messages—lines,
marked points on the sand, examples, parables, comparisons, and so
on. (It is noteworthy that such a method has been used by the Prophet
(PBH) himself with his companions.) Many who failed to grasp this
innovation in the domain of teaching (which does not exclude
theoretical teaching in the least) assumed that Bamba showed little
regard for textbook teaching, in spite of his numerous books and the
founding of many Murid theoretical schools (daara al Quran and daara
Majalis). Moreover, the recent introduction, in many modern
educational systems around the world, of practice-oriented schools
for pupils considered as unfit for theoretical teaching is evidence of
the relevance of Bamba’s early innovation.

Besides, such an interesting dichotomy between theoretical

knowledge (Ilm) and genuine practice of one’s knowledge (amal) is
conform to the differentiation Bamba always made (following other
masters) between pure speculation and worship based on reliable
knowledge. This is the true relationship between religious theory and
practice, for the Sheikh:

“Do know, o my Brother!, that knowledge prevails over action, being

its principle and root - bliss to whom that is endowed with!
Nevertheless, knowledge could not bear fruit and bring profit without
its subsequent putting into practice—so try to combine both of them.
Few actions based on accurate knowledge will, of a surety, entail more
Reward than a host of actions performed with ignorance. Useful
knowledge [in the Hereafter] is that which has been learnt and taught
for the Sole Countenance of the MAJESTIC LORD, the ONE. But not
that which has been learnt for superficial debates, making parade and
searching for glamour - know thou this!” (Masãlik, v. 103-107)

For the Sheikh, philosophy and other intellectual exercises are

praiseworthy as long as they enable man to combine his material and
spiritual progress, in this world and in the Hereafter. As long as they
do not hinder him to get nearer to his Lord and do not lead him astray
from the right path and to overstep the limits imposed by the Lord.
For him, knowledge is not noble by nature, but it becomes dignified
only through its suitable expression. Because knowledge acquires its
true value only through genuine and clear-sighted practice. As Bamba
wrote it:

“Indeed, any who fears not the LORD of the Worlds is far from being
learned; had he mastered all the branches of knowledge!" (Masãlik, v.

So, contemplation, meditation and philosophy (etymologically

“love for wisdom”) are only valuable if they can render man really
wise, that is to say when his actions correspond strictly to his accurate
knowledge and can lead him to happiness and peace in this world and
in the Hereafter. High spiritual degrees and purity of heart granted by
such a uprightness are the ground where are sowed the seeds of true
knowledge provided by the Lord to His righteous servants. This is the
reason why the Sheikh has always stressed on the great import to
favor practicing one’s knowledge over doctrinal unproductive
controversies (as the shown, during his exile in Mauritania, by the
fierce argument between Moorish scholars about the mãhiya (how God
can be with a creature?) to which the Sheikh answered with a severe
warning to both sides.)

Another interesting example of Bamba’s concern to adapt tools

to people but not the opposite, is his efforts to make old religious
books easier for modern students. In fact, Black Muslims used to teach
with ancient books, written in different spaces and times, in forms
and sizes no longer suitable - which impacted sometimes on the
effectiveness of teaching. Bamba noticed that most of such books,
though valuable, were not adapted to the local realities.

“The works of the [old masters] are presently neglected by most of the
people of this generation, due in part to their voluminous sizes…And I
have revived in this book the lights of knowledge people have rendered
dead letter in their errant ignorance” (Masãlik, v. 24, 32)

Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba dared, during his very youth, when he

was still his father’s assistant in the daara, to meddle with such
sacrosanct books, in putting them into verses and in giving freely his
opinions and his own analysis of the great masters’ writings,
whenever needs be. For instance:

“As for the Advantages ensuing from regular reading of the Qur-ãn,
they are held in great regard by the Stainless Master [Al-Yadãlĩ] who
said; "Whoever wishes to draw nearer to his LORD, let him read
the Qur-ãn ceaselessly". I do add for myself: "Whoever wishes to
earn GOD's Satisfaction, let him read constantly the Qur-ãn and
meditate on its verses.” (Masãlik, v. 527-529)

“[After having expounded the differing opinions of the masters

regarding the case of a worshipper who is ignoring the legal
rules of worship—his act of worship is accepted or not?]. For my
part, I do put this : "Our LORD forbids to any person recognized as
accountable for his actions to perform any practice of worship, prior to
knowing the particular legal conditions which rule it." Such a point of
view is verily reliable. Indeed any such who ignores his religious
obligations and who persists in not asking information thereon is
bringing ruin upon himself and is wronging himself.” (Tazawudu
Cighãr, v.161, 163)

Bamba’s thought is that men are not at all compelled to stay

stuck in an intellectual timewarp, and Muslims should not be a
hidebound community obsessed by their glorious past. Such a rigid
misconception and lack of adaptability of Muslims is assuredly one of
the main causes which have dramatically precipitated Islamic
civilization decline in the past. Contrary to this vision, Bamba’s
attitude has proven that he believes deeply that progress in Islam is
possible and has to come. Unlike many Salafis who hang on the
famous principle of absolute superiority of the first generations of
Muslims (based on some hadiths about the illustrious pioneers and
following tãbihũn, and on some verses understood as the “End of
Muslim History”), Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba thinks that, even if
Muslim precursors are eternally granted exceptional favors, God’s
Grace will never end and is closed to nobody, as he asserted it in

“As goes the saying: “Drizzle may well precede pouring rain,
however pouring rain is far better to the crops than drizzle" O
thou that art scorning my work! Do call to thy remembrance this
Prophetic maxim (hadith): “My community is like a rain, [no one
knoweth which part thereof is the best—the first part or the
last part]”(Masãlik, v. 53-54)

Such a conviction about possible spiritual and material

progress of the modern generations of Muslims, which eludes
nowadays many Muslims excessively haunted by bid’a (blameworthy
spiritual innovation) and akhĩru zamãn (End of time), runs counter to
the idea of unavoidable moral and spiritual decadence widely
advocated by most of Muslim preachers. The Sheikh is far from being
fatalistic. For him, there can be among modern and coming
generations some who are as valuable or even more valuable than
most of the Muslims of past generations. Humanity can improve if
men strive to comply with true spirituality and if they use their
powerful modern means to achieve God’s Satisfaction instead of
letting them lead humankind to animality, as it is often the case today.
Thus, in founding a new city (Touba) he planned to be a place most
propitious to worship for coming generations, in educating
generations of Muslims, in rekindling the dignity of his people, in
reviving and adapting many essential concepts to his space and time,
Bamba made a gamble on the future and demonstrated that all is not
lost. Unless we really want it.

Murid Grounds for Yes-we-can Attitude

A last example showing that Bamba’s thought was a length ahead the
spiritual conceptions of most of his fellow Black Muslims, is his self-
confidence which led him to found a Sufi doctrine (or brotherhood),
in a relatively young age. Indeed, most of Senegalese Muslims were
convinced to be Muslims only if they become members of one of the
two most prominent existing brotherhoods, founded by Arab Sufi
Masters—the Qãdiriyya and the Tijãniyya. Besides, their highest
spiritual ambitions within these brotherhoods were to be conferred
one day the title of Shaykh in the Qãdiriyya or that of a Muqaddam in
the Tijãniyya. Although Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba has always
advocated the importance of Sufi orders and the merit of their
respective founders, he was also convinced that brotherhoods are not
the ultimate end and that their founders, like Sheikh Abdul Qadĩr Al-
Jilãni and Sheikh Ahmad At-Tijãni, reached their eminent ranks by the
Grace of God and by their sincerity in devotion. The Sheikh began by
practicing the wirds of such brotherhoods and of others, with the
ambition to reach the spiritual ranks of their founders and - why not?
- to surpass them one day. With this daring and Yes-we-can
conviction, which constitutes the greatest level of Himmah (infinite
spiritual ambition), the Sheikh undertook to reach the highest
spiritual and intellectual degrees. He made so many efforts that he
eventually attained a level which allowed him to no longer recognize
as his spiritual master anyone but the Prophet himself (PBH). Hence,
he founded his own brotherhood (or specific spiritual doctrine)—a big
first in all African history. It is known that after his mystical allegiance
to the Prophet Muhammad (PBH), Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba ceased to
make frequent references to his previous masters (Al-Ghazali, and
others Sufi writers). While still holding them in high regard, he
stopped introducing himself as he was used to in his earlier books;
“As a disciple of my father [who taught me], I say”. “Seniority” and race
were no longer valid criteria of superiority for him. He wrote:

“And never be dissuaded from holding this book in due regard by my

belonging to the black race. Because [as quoted from the Book] the
most honorable human being before GOD is who that fears HIM the
most, without any possible doubt. So black skin does not imply
insanity or ill understanding” (Masãlik, v.47-49)

In a second little-known version of Masãlik he wrote later (and

which has been lost, except some verses), he went even further and
revised this last verse; “So black skin does not imply denial of the Divine
Grace or of attaining high spiritual degrees.” Bamba’s assertion of his own
personality and identity is very unusual in those times and
foreshadowed a radical mental revolution in the relationship between
Black Muslims and Moorish masters. This attitude also called into
question the would-be natural intellectual superiority of White men
over Blacks which was one the key argument of the upholders of
“civilizing behind-the-times Black peoples” through colonization (“le
fardeau de l’homme blanc” or “la mission civilisatrice” as they called it).
In saying “yes, we, Blacks, can write books, we can think, we
can reach the highest spiritual and moral degrees ”, Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba was also maintaining that the era when Blacks must quite
necessarily consider Moorish as their natural leaders is in the past and
that the time has come when Blacks can be the spiritual as well
intellectual masters of Moorish and White men as well. The only valid
criterion must be fearing of the Lord ensuing from reliable and deep
knowledge, moral qualities and worship of God, in accordance with
the basic principles of Islam Although this absolute racial equality in
Islam, constantly advocated and reminded by the Prophet (PBH) to
his people, had always to face most Arabs’ psychological and cultural
representations of their Black co-religionists as former slaves. This
strong affirmation of self-confidence of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba
enabled him later to be ranked among the most prominent Sufi
masters of all times by many Mauritanian poets and Moorish Sufis
who regarded themselves as his humble disciples. Such attitude
contributed much in reviving Black Muslims’ self-assurance and into
developing a strong Murid identity.

However, such a claiming against negative conceptions about

Black race is not intended at all to uphold any spiritual difference on a
racial basis, as some seem to assume it. Indeed, Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba’s teaching, in itself, does not convey any idea liable to
substantiate seriously the assumption of having “negrified” Islam (as
President Senghor put it once) or of forging a form of Islam more
suitable to Black Africans. His sole pretence and purpose was the
renewal of the original principles of Islam, out of any racial or social

In fact, though refusing the so-called intellectual and spiritual

hegemony of the Moors, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba built up very solid
relationship with many of them. Mostly during his second exile in
Mauritania (he was calling Ard Sãlihĩn, the Land of the Virtuous),
when a few Moor tribes swore allegiance to him, he a Black master—a
first, to our knowledge. Mauritanian masters, among which some
were known yet for their natural condescension towards their black
peers, and for their far-reaching knowledge, were so impressed by
Bamba’s spiritual and intellectual levels that they dedicated him
hundreds of impassioned praise-poems - another first in Senegalese
history - which have been gathered in a major collection in Touba
Public Library.

The Witnesses of the Written Miracles

There are definitely too much to say about these questions, but let us
content ourselves in agreeing that one cannot understand perfectly
the ideological basis of the Muridiyya unless he becomes familiar with
all these notions conveyed in Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s writings and
other internal literary materials we call “Murid parallel writings”, like
biographies, hagiographies, Wolofal (poems written in Wolof language
by Murid authors) etc.

Among important parallel writings, which deserve analysis

and which may be of great interest through meaningful cross-
checking, we must count Bamba’s official biographies, and reliable
accounts made by close disciples who lived with him and which are
gathered in written majmũha or in audiocassettes. Such as the
important reports of Serigne Mabandji Ndiaye, Serigne Cheikh Fatou
Tacko Diop, Serigne Demba Kébé, Serigne Habibou Mbacke, Serigne
Mor Seck Ridial and others. These disciples, who were unanimously
recognized as reliable and God-fearing, gave highly valuable clues,
through stories and anecdotes they personally witnessed, about the
thinking and the stance of their Sheikh regarding numerous matters—
among which some may be very unexpected, as household, the
importance of teaching girls, his outstanding exegesis of some Koranic
verses and hadiths, his opinions about many daily situations, his
attitude in private life etc. Their testimonies, after due cross-checking
through classical academic tools, could constitute an important
complementary element crucial to analyze some writings and
attitudes of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba. Because spiritual experience is
not easy to communicate and we can grasp it perfectly only through
the Sufi ‘s everyday life, as Anawati wrote it:

“Mystical experience is essentially personal and cannot be fully
interpreted outside the analysis of the Sufi’s life itself, beyond his mere
verbal expression. We need to know in detail the accurate behavior,
during his life, of the author we intend to study, as well as his conduct
towards his close relations, and his attitude towards death. All of this
must be reported by critical biographers - and not only through pure
legends - so as to ascertain if what the author related us from his
experiences was just pure literary fiction or the accurate description of
a phenomenon he personally experienced. Indeed, nothing is easier
than repeating wonderful maxims or reciting marvelous prayers.
Which is quite different from producing them spontaneously prompted
by a choice [Divine] Grace.”

Reliable accounts on Bamba’s actions and doings could play

the same role as the hadiths did, in helping to document the Prophet’s
teachings in many questions the Qur-ãn gave no explicit details.
Scholars who attempted to study the Muridiyya, without examining
carefully these vital internal sources, chose instead to rely often on
misguided Murid disciples who never received training or instruction
by the Sheikh himself or never lived intimately with him. They chose
also to content themselves with the tendentious official reports of the
jealous native colonial representatives, or the doubtful “scientific”
studies of Paul Marty and the like.

Indeed, all these examples above have shown us how Sheikh

Ahmadou Bamba’s writings are crucial to appreciate fully his
philosophy and the doctrinal foundations of the Muridiyya, and how
the scholarly dearth noticed in this purpose may be critical. Most of
the mistakes and misunderstandings conveyed by previous works on
the Muridiyya originate often in their attempts to construe this
organization basically from interpretations of Murids’ opponents or of
some Murids (even though these happen to be ignorant or to have
misconceptions of Bamba’s true writings and teachings), disregarding
so its fundamental ideological basis. This is typically the same mistake
made by some scholars who identified Islam with the misconducts or
the misconstructions of some little-balanced Muslims—this is what
we call the “down-top” perspective.
Wave Seven
Standing up “Crawling” Studies

Even past occasional attempts to study Bamba’s writings focused

essentially on the interpretation of such writings by the Murids
themselves and how it affects their social behaviors. But they never
endeavored to construe the true meaning of these writings, according
to Bamba himself. Most of the time, scholars content themselves with
quoting occasionally some verses met with in the few existing French
translations of the qasidas or taken from interviews with some Murid
disciples (who can distort many primary meanings). Furthermore,
such verses and reports are often taken out of their initial contexts and
without the essential preliminary ground-level investigations and
methodical studies on their original sources. Another problem raised
sometimes by the full reliance to Murid disciples’ isolated
interpretations, without due cross-checking with the doctrinal basis of
the Muridiyya, is the fact that the perceptions of the Murids who are
living in different spaces and times may be quite different, while their
theoretical reference basis is supposed to be the same—Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba’s teachings.

Through this new prism, we are tempted to say that most of

the scholarship on the Muridiyya to date is rather crawling around the
epiphenomena of social facts. Because it has been too often dazzled by
some striking distinctive features of this organization and has been

frequently confused by biases and intellectual short cuts. So, what we
need now is to help this scholarship back to its two feet—meaning, (1)
analyzing carefully and thoroughly its founder’s writings and
everyday life and (2) confronting these with historical facts and their
interpretations through Murids’ practices and beliefs.

What can explain such a lack of research on Sheikh Ahmadou

Bamba’s writings, despite the substantial scholarship on the
Muridiyya? We found some main reasons, among others, which can
give us a few keys to the riddle.

The Collateral Damages of Marx and Marty

First, many of the scholars who studied the Muridiyya, up to now, are
social scientists who were far more interested in the visible distinctive
features of the Murids—economic vitality and psychological
motivations, social behaviors, political commitment, conservative
tendencies along with adaptability to modernity, immigration etc.
Moreover, until now, many scholars are, somehow or other,
influenced by the prevailing and enduring paradigms laid down by
French colonial literature on the Muridiyya led by Paul Marty, the
influential colonial administrator. This is somewhat what Babou
reproached to this trend in saying:

“Scholarly interpretations of the Muridiyya reflect a general trend

that, until recently, has marked the literature on religion in general
and on religion in the former European colonies in South Asia and
Africa in particular. One defining characteristic of this trend is the
importance ascribed to economic and political aspirations spurred by
colonization as the major causative and explanatory factors of
religious social movements…Terence Ranger observed that ”all
religious movements…have been treated as new and as
explicable in terms of special pressures and transformations of

Indeed, this is just one of the several “collateral damages” of the

lasting and deep influence of the Marxist methodology in social
sciences. We are convinced that such a lack of concern about the real
ideological and spiritual basis of the Muridiyya are at the root of
numerous misunderstandings and clichés about the Murids, largely
portrayed as ignorant, fanatic, credulous and heedless of Islamic
orthodoxy. These clichés, based on the study of particular samples,
were further legitimated by the racist concept of “Islam noir” (so-
called form of Islam practiced specifically by Black Africans)
theorized by Paul Marty and other orientalists, who considered it as
less pure than “Arab Islam” and as more akin to paganism. This
explains certainly why the reputed very serious gazetteer “Le Grand
Dictionnaire du Monde” describes the Murids in such incredible

“Murids have adapted Islam to African specificity—so, when they

perform their prayers, they turn towards the tomb of their great
marabout, Amadou Bamba, but not towards the Mecca.”

We may also read in Wikipedia (January 2009), and in many

other internet resources about the Muridiyya, very amazing

“Every year, millions of Murids all over the world make a pilgrimage
to Touba (Magal), worshipping at the mosque and honoring the
memory of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba. On one occasion during the
pilgrimage, Murid believers pray facing the Atlantic Ocean, to
commemorate Bamba’s legendary prayer on the water.”

This last report (widely taken up by a few global media) is all

the more eccentric if one realize that Touba is situated in the heart of
Baol and Cayor lands (central Senegal), where nobody could hardly
locate where the sea breeze is blowing!

Indeed, the lack of reliable information on the true doctrinal

basis of the Muriddiya led often many scholars to content themselves
and to make do with the (false) conceptions of the first Murid who
comes along, without due and minimum checking. Because, the fact is
there are many Murids who claimed strongly their affiliation to
Bamba’s doctrine without having ever studied seriously his authentic
thinking and practice, and who rely seldom on unverified stories and
popular misconceptions. There are as well, as it is often the case in all
communities, some Murids who act deliberately out of compliance
with Bamba’s teachings because of their individual worldly interests,
though perfectly conscious of their inconsistency. René Luc Moreau
criticized this ill-oriented methodology used to study the doctrine of
the Muridiyya, in writing:

“Regarding the Murids, [scholars] have essentially made their

enquiries about Murid doctrine from the great number, in other words
from the peasants who were the least prepared to answer the
inappropriate questions of the interviewers. [Scholars] were also
asking information from the opponents of this organization, who found
their interests to misrepresent and to denigrate [the Murids] to the
local authorities. ”

Such a subjective methodology may be likened to a Martian

reporter who relies essentially, once he got off his flying saucer, to his
interview with the first US citizen he met with - who is unfortunately
member of the Ku Klux Klan – and who writes, on this single basis, his
article on the racial conception of all American people! This is as if we
rely on the wild imaginings of some British drunk hooligans or on the
rambling of a neo-Nazi activist to portray the common behavior and
frame of mind of all the United Kingdom’s inhabitants. Indeed, like all
human communities in history and around the world, all Murids are
not equally clear-sighted and well-guided—for sure, they have got
their hooligans as well. But, in the same way clear-sighted Muslims do
not accept their religion being improperly identified with violence
and intolerance, just owing to a handful of “terrorists”, so clear-
sighted and genuine Murids do not accept their doctrine being
misjudged because of a few thoughtless individuals. Making
sweeping generalizations has always been, and is still, Achilles’ heel
of most of the scholarship on the Muridiyya based alone on
unchecked ground material or ill-targeted surveys. Goodness ! Is it
not time, o Dear Scholar, to get to the core of Bamba’s true ideology,
The Wolof Boatman

Another subtle premise which impacted implicitly on the underrating

of the full significance of Bamba’s writings is, in our view, the weight
of oral tradition for many scholars in construing “illiterate” African
societies’ philosophy. This led many scholars to give relatively few
importance to Black native writers. Although, we have to
acknowledge that the case of a prolific writer as assiduous as Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba is quite atypical in many African societies.

Furthermore, some scholars assumed that, since most Wolof

natives were illiterate, they could not get to the writings of the Sheikh.
Hence, there is no need to waste time with, since Murid disciples
rather refer to mythical and fabulous stories to make up their own
code of belief. This approach seems a little too hasty, insofar as it
disregards the high significance of Wolof literature (called Wolofal),
which played a key part in translating, poetically and in a fashion
more familiar to the masses of that time, the essentials of Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba’s writings. Wolofal ranked among the best
“bridges”, among others, which enabled Wolof illiterate people to
attain the “ocean” of Murid doctrine and principles. Murid poets, like
Sheikh Moussa Ka, who regarded themselves as “boatmen in charge
of making Wolof cross the language barrier”, were convinced to be
inspired by Sheikh Ahmadou himself. As Sheikh Moussa Ka put it, in
some of his admirable poems:

“Bismil Ilaahi, Njamee ngi deeti joow pake ca bël ba

Njamee di mool biy xuus ci geeju Bamba,
Di xotti mbeex ma, tay jàlle gaaya pom ba ”

In the Name of God, I am launching again my boat

As the ferryman in the heart of Bamba’s Ocean

Through the waves, I shall cleave

And make my people cross the Bridge.

“Tay jii ma wax ba ne tareet,

Ngir yaa ma def àntalpareet
Ngir yaa fabi xam-xam ne yareet
Ci sama xel ci Xarnu bi”

Today, I shall shout [O Bamba!]

For you make of me thy interpret,
Inspiring a knowledge very fine
To the mind of mine, today

Another Murid poet, Sheikh Samba Diaara Mbaye, depicted his

empathy with Bamba in these most outstanding verses:

“Bu leen ma yéem, yéem leen ko moom,

Du man di wax, mooy ka di wax,
Waxande laa wum tëji wax,
Bu ma tijee may làmmiñam”

Marvel not at my artistry, wonder ye at him instead

These words of him are not the words of mine
I am just the box where his words nestled
Whenever he opens me, I shall be his words

If Bamba chose to write in Arabic, it was mainly because Arabic

was the scholar and scientific language of his milieu and time, and
that the Qur-ãn and all textbook material African Muslims were using
are written in Arabic, which portrays Islam official and sacred
language. Murid Wolof writers were deeply conscious of their mission
to translate this message. Bamba himself gave clear clues to their
forerunners, who were his disciples (like Serigne Mbaye Diakhaté,
Serigne Mor Kayré and Sheikh Moussa Ka), and encourage them to
write in their native language. Wolof poets were considering seriously
their role to educate illiterate people and to make them attain the most
of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba's teachings, though it was through the
colorful prism of Wolof culture and touch. Their numerous allegorical
references to “Bamba-Ocean” (Bambaa di gééj) in their poems devoted
to hagiography, ethics, spiritual education, admonitions, pleas,
praising, and so on, show that authors like Sheikh Moussa Ka, Serigne
Mbaye Diakhaté, Serigne Mor Kayré, Sheikh Samba Diaara Mbaye,
and others, were fully aware of their educational role. Thus, many of
their works may be construed as a kind of "wolofization" of the

Besides, much has been said about the popular epic and the
“propensity to legendary stories” reproached to Wolofal literature.
Some scholars, with Wahhabi leanings, have also reproached Wolof
hagiography to fuel the cult of the saints. Others were prone to erect a
wall between Wolof literature, somewhat held as “populist” and
designed for the “peasantry”, and Bamba’s writings, regarded as more
significant, intellectually speaking.

There is no doubt that Wolof poets, like many poets elsewhere,

are often inclined to lay more stress on the fantastic element and on
supernatural events rational spirits are tempted to hold as pure
fancies. However, such standpoints disregard the fact that, in addition
to epics and hagiographies, Wolof poets have written in many other
valuable fields. A writer like Serigne Mbaye Diakhaté is particularly
well-known for his numerous and vivid educational poems designed
to teach Murid disciples the fundamentals of Sufism, and his harsh
criticisms against the misbehaviors of a part of the Murid leadership
and disciples.

Other reasons which contributed to shape the form taken by

many Wolofal are the intellectual level and cultural tendencies of their
time and milieu, favored by the West-African griot-style of
storytelling, the allegorical and lyric style imposed by poetry, and the
Sufi tradition of hagiographic literature (manaaqib). Moussa Ka’s
works played in Wolof society the same role as “The Odyssey” of
Homer did in Ancient Greece, or “One Thousand and One Nights” in
Arab imaginary, making due allowances.

Following Babou’s relevant remarks, we must also observe

that the “immoderation” reproached to Wolof poets have played a key
part in counterbalancing efficiently, in the popular Murid imagery, the

major subversive effects of the politically oriented colonial literature
on the Muridiyya. Moussa Ka was a kind of anti-Marty writer.

As for the reproach to fuel the cult of the saints, it is a very old
controversy between differing ideological tendencies in Islam.
However, Bamba is not certainly held by the orthodox Murids as their
god, neither as their prophet, but he is the gate through which they
reached the Divine light and the gateway to the Treasures of the
Prophet (PBH) and human dignity. This is the reason why they are
revering him over all other human beings but they do not worship
him, because all his recommendations corresponds to what God and
His Prophet (PBH) have ordered them. And whatever Spiritual Favors
he claimed, as outstanding as they may be, are just considered as an
evidence of the Lord’s infinite Grace and Mercy. No one can find, in
all Bamba’s writings, any favor he claimed having been granted
outside his Lord’s Mercy or which runs counter to the Absolute
Kingship of God. Were it not their deep conviction that Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba is infinitely favored by the Lord and His Prophet
(PBH), Murids would have never followed him and love him so
much. Loving someone the Lord himself and His Prophet love
amounts to loving God and His Messenger (PBH), in their

As regarding the criticisms about too much tendency for

miraculous stories, it is a general reproach common to many
traditional hagiographies. However, Muslim rationalists have to recall
that religion is not made of rational (in the modern sense) and
Cartesian elements alone. Miracles have always been an integral part
of Islamic teaching, throughout numerous stories related in the Qur-
ãn, as shown by the miracles (mu’jizãt) worked by the Prophets. Let us
just remind the prodigious powers granted to the Prophets David and
Solomon, as told in the Book:

“We gave (in the past) knowledge to David and Solomon: And they
both said: “Praise be to God, Who has favoured us above many of his
servants who believe!" And Solomon was David's heir. He said: "O ye
people! We have been taught the speech of birds, and on us has been
bestowed (a little) of all things: this is indeed Grace manifest (from
God.)"And before Solomon were marshalled his hosts,- of Jinns and
men and birds, and they were all kept in order and ranks. At length,
when they came to a (lowly) valley of ants, one of the ants said: “O ye
ants, get into your habitations, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you
(under foot) without knowing it." So he smiled, amused at her speech;
and he said: “O my Lord! so order me that I may be grateful for Thy
favours, which thou hast bestowed on me and on my parents, and that
I may work the righteousness that will please Thee.” (Qur-ãn

Although modern rationalist exegetes have tried hard to give

more Cartesian and more allegorical constructions to such passages
they hold rationally “disturbing”, quite implicitly, they are also bound
to acknowledge that telling miracles or having faith in the
supernatural powers of the saints (wãli) are not at all in contradiction
with the spirit of authentic Islam and to return to pristine prophetic
tradition. In our view, what they should rather emphasize is
educating the audience such stories are intended for, through proper
teaching tools, so they may learn how to understand their symbolisms
and the limits they should never overstep. As outstanding as Divine
miracles and favors may be, they must be just considered as evidences
of His infinite mercy and must prompt men to show gratefulness to
their Creator. But they can never be valid grounds for transgressing or
assigning partners to God. So, criticizing the miracles of the Saints and
Wolofal hagiographies, on that point, amounts to suggesting to
remove all “disturbing” supernatural references of the Qur-ãn and of
the Hadiths, so as to suit hard-liner rationalists. Indeed, discussing in
great detail all questions relating to the countless controversies
between rationalist Muslims and Sufis would lead us beyond the
scope of this study.

“When it is said to them: “Believe as the others believe:" They say:

“Shall we believe as the fools believe?" Nay, of a surety they are the
fools, but they do not know.” (Qur-ãn ii.13)

Moreover, some scholars seem to be assuming that Wolof
writers were not well-versed in genuine religious knowledge and that
the popular literature they founded do not reflect accurately Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba’s teachings. According to such scholars, this
contributes greatly to distort the perception many Murid have of
Bamba’s teachings. Indeed, one cannot deny the cultural impact of
Wolof imagery, traditions and collective memory on the popular
perception of Murid doctrinal corpus. Because religion has always to
cope with cultural dimensions wherever it settled down. Then the
struggle has always been to never let corrupting traditions
detrimental to worship supplant religious and moral principles—such
dynamics and unsteady equilibrium is the basis of religious life in any
society. However, assuming that Murid poets were not well-learned
does not square with reality. In fact, Sheikh Moussa Ka as well as
Serigne Mbaye Diakhaté, and other Murid writers, were trained by
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba himself, and a thorough examination of their
great poetic legacy may show their high commands of all the religious
sciences—exegesis of the Qur-ãn, Hadith, Tawhĩd, Sufism, history of
Islam, poetry, and so on. Which is largely demonstrated by the high
quality of their very works. Furthermore, through many elegiacs, they
have just translated in Wolof cultural form the outstanding spiritual
favors the Sheikh himself declared he was granted by the Lord in his
own writings, in accordance with Sufi old tradition of spiritual

The beneficial and didactic effects of Wolofal on Murid

disciples are also proven. While contributing greatly to foster Murids’
African identity, poems in native language played an essential role to
popularize many subtle Islamic concepts, to the common Wolof
people as to the upper learned classes who could be not very familiar
with Sufi notions before. I can give my personal example to show how
Wolof poems can impact on Murids’ attitudes and beliefs. Whenever I
am listening to moving Wolofal elegiacs of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba
or one of his valiant companions, I can’t help being touched by their
virtues and their works, though being quite aware of the simplifying
power of poetry. This is assuredly a major psychological motivation
which may prompt to imitate them, to keep one’s dignity and to
cherish ambitious spiritual purposes. As Serigne Moussa Ka puts it in,
in some quite notable verses:

“Bepp làkk rafet na

Buy gindi ci nit xel ma,
Di yee ci jaam ngor nga”

All languages will keep up their beauties,

As long as they light the way for men,
And rekindle their sense of dignity

On the point of doing something, I happen sometimes to recall

a particular Wolof verse relating to Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s practice
and teaching which dissuaded me or encouraged me to do it. For
instance, whenever I feel sick or exhausted so as to be tempted to cut
short some daily acts of devotion I am accustomed to, this verse of
Sheikh Moussa Ka comes often to my mind; “Du wopp ba tax mu wàññi
jaamu Yàllaam” (“Bamba was never prevented from performing his
devotional duties due to ill health or tiredness”). Even though this
indulgence is perfectly permitted by Islamic law (Shari’a), such a
determination to worship the Lord, in any circumstances, to one’s
extreme limits (Himmah or Pastéef) has deeply shaped Murid doctrine.

The King and the Cleric

The political commitment of the Murids and their relationship with

the State have also aroused much questioning and many analyses of
the scholars, which fueled an enduring picture of political clientelism
of the Murids. Most of those scholars were deeply influenced by the
paradigm imposed by French colonial authors, which considers the
Muridiyya as “an instrument used by the Wolof ethnic group to adapt
to French colonial rule”. These same scholars assume that, in the
postcolonial era, “the Murid order continued to perform its political
function by helping foster a ”social contract” which mitigated the new
rulers’ lack of legitimacy in the eyes of rural masses and provided
stability to the state”. Under this contract of quid pro quo, “the Murid
leaders, among other Muslim brokers, assured the loyalty of the
citizens and in return received recognition and material support from
the State.”

Besides individual attitudes and political stances of some

Murid leaders and disciples who actually use their membership of the
Muridiyya as a political and politicking device, we contend that many
writers have failed to grasp fully the complexity of this question and
all its implications. As usual, passion and prejudice supplanted
careful and scientific study. As a colonial officer, Marty’s obvious
worries about potential native forces liable to threaten the official
authority’s full control over the masses are still perceptible through
many approaches, until today. Such a vision has been worsened by
the religious form taken by the political commitment of the Murids.
For, in analyzing this problem, we noticed a meaningful difference of
approach regarding this question between, schematically speaking,
the scholars originating or influenced by the theories in vogue in
former colonial countries (mostly France) and scholars from
nonimperialist countries (like American researchers). Though it
would be highly simplistic to reduce this problem to just a problem of
nationalities, it is known that, in these two areas, the perception of
religion and the limits of its sphere of influence are historically
different, on the whole. And it is also known that their research
methodologies and approaches are often different, particulary in
social sciences, in spite of many common academic tools and

The French Revolution has set down enduring political

principles regarding secularity (Principe de laïcité), the strict separation
of the Church and the State, and the containment of religious life
within private space. Such a vision may be easily explained by the
feeling of intellectual revolt against the complicity of the clergy with
the monarchy and their unfair domination over the people for
centuries. As for American scholars, the religious historical
background of their nation, their past of former colonized people and
of anticolonialism, and their culture of communitarianism favored by
the outcomes of slavery and immigration, help them generally to treat
with less prejudice the question of political commitment of a Black
religious community. Religious communities’ political lobbying,
which is widely acknowledged in American context (and in other
areas, despite however real problems sometimes), is officially
regarded as in opposition to French republican principles. Although
lobbies of the freemasons, of various economic forces, of homosexuals,
and of other visible minorities are an undeniable fact in this system.
Today, in many countries in the modern world, homosexual lobbying
is widely more accepted than religious lobbying, due in part to the
continuing revenge of the Enlightenment (les Lumières) on the Church
(and on other religious beliefs). Even Senegalese scholars and
intellectuals who have been trained through this system did not
escape such a conception of the Republic they are defending with real
conviction, unlike Anglo-Saxon scholars who show often more
detachment in analyzing this question (schematically speaking). This
analyzis of Allen Roberts (one American scholar among others), which
is representative of this tendency, is about the role of Senegalese
religious forces in the stability of the country (in spite of serious

“Mouridism is one of the most distinctive aspects of contemporary

Senegalese social life. Indeed, it would be impossible to understand
how the republic’s ‘brisk and vigorous democracy’ makes it ‘a beacon
of a troubled region’ without fully appreciating its most
economically and politically influential Islamic movement. Mouridism
links all secular and sacred activities. Senegal also has a long tradition
of amicable and tolerant coexistence between the Muslim majority and
the Christian ... and other religious minorities ... the country’s
striking stability can be directly attributed to the unusual balance of
power between the Senegalese government and the Mourides and other
religious orders.”

This new scholarly trend, which contrasts with all what have
been written on this question for decades, denotes clearly that the
theme of Murid political commitment can be analyzed through a
different more complex prism. In fact there are a few important
parameters which should be taken into account in studying the nature
and the significance of the very long-discussed Murid political
commitment. These factors have been very often ignored by many
authors who have attempted to study this question in the past. Let us
recall here some essential elements which will show the shallowness
of most articles on this subject and the reason why those articles are
often something of heatedly opinions rather than objective critics.

First of all, Islamic overall conception of life does not make

fundamentally a tangible separation between religious and secular
social activities. “Say: "Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my
life and my death, are (all) for God, the Cherisher of the Worlds” (Qurãn
vi.162). In Islam, politics is understood, in the broadest sense, as every
activity and effort aiming to promote social, economic, and spiritual
development of the Muslim community. Thence, politics is an
integrated part of its original message, as implied by this statement of
the Prophet (PBH); “Whoever does not care about his fellow Muslims’
welfare is not a member of my community.” From the very beginning,
Islam claimed the political commitment of its leadership, symbolized
by the State of Medina, designed and led by the Prophet himself
(PBH). After the death of the Prophet (PBH), this initial model of
politics suffered serious alterations produced by endless internal
dissensions and by the excesses of ruling dynasties which turned to
mere politicking. This deviation contributed much to break up the
homogeneous initial politico-religious conception in Islam, which
split in two distinct powers compelled to interact through unsteady
relationship—temporal power and religious power.

This led some Muslim masters to advocate return to the sober

and ascetic lifestyle of the Prophet (PBH) and to theorize, through a
method called Sufism, the purification of the heart of all worldly
purpose, so as to get nearer the Lord. Power and politics became then
suspicious, and religious leaders who were maintaining close
relationship with the rulers were systematically blamed and accused
of loving this world and of dishonest compromise. A more balanced
Sufi approach (supported by Imam Ghazali, among others)
acknowledged the possible collaboration with (unjust) rulers under
special and restricted circumstances. Such conditions were about the
moral perfection of the religious leaders, the scope of this diplomatic
cooperation (maslaha) which must not step over the legal limits
imposed by the respect of Divine principles. Religious leaders must
then keep away from the rulers’ corrupting milieu and are allowed to
cooperate with them only in case of necessity. This Sufi tendency
invites also Muslim subjects to abide by the laws set down by the
rulers as long as they help them in their material needs and do not
compel them to give up their faith. Such principles influenced deeply
many brotherhoods, among which the Qãdiriyya, one of the most
prominent tariqas to which belong many Senegalese clerical families,
like Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s family, the Mbacke. Although the
possibility of violent opposition to unjust rulers and of religious
conquest of the political power have always been regularly claimed by
some Senegalese clerics, according to particular circumstances, the
main trend of such a Sufi approach may well be summed up by this
popular maxim “Peace and tranquility are better than anything else”
(As-Salãmun wal ãfiya khayrun min ghayrihima).

Historically, in Senegal, kings have always solicited clerics to

manage their kingdoms or, otherwise, have tried to contain their
influence. Such a tradition became the rule in Wolof society since the
sixteenth century, notably after the collapse of the Jolof empire which
had dominated the political landscape of Senegal for over two
centuries. The Jolof empire gave birth to new Wolof states (Jolof,
Walo, Cayor and Baol) which rulers asked often Muslim clerics
assistance about statecraft, mystical protection and political support.
In return, influential clerics were granted land, administrative and
cultural autonomy, as Babou described it widely in his book:

“This policy of exchanging services became an enduring trait of the

relationships between rulers and clerics in the Wolof states, which the
French colonial administration would try to replicate centuries later.
The association of Muslim clerics with the business of government
helped enhance the prestige of Islam and its expansion among the
commoners…Because of its increasing influence on the wider
population, Islam gradually became an important political force…
From the seventeenth century on, it gradually became a refuge for the
powerless, who were the primary victims of the violence and insecurity
spurred by the slave trade, dynastic wars, and French encroachment.
Some Muslim clerics responded to the deleterious economic and
political situations in the Wolof states by waging jihads and seeking
political autonomy. Some remained involved with the rulers in various
capacities. And many others pursued their laborious work as
educators at the grassroot levels and away from the centers of power,
contributing to a gradual but steady implantation of the Islamic
religious culture among the Wolof.”

Thus, we are allowed to contend that, despite numerous

historical ups and downs, the complex and very old relationship
between Islam and politics in Senegal was decisive to realize what
James Searing termed “the quiet Revolution” of Islam in Senegal. That
is to say, Islam has progressed and has gained its power in Senegal
due to complex social interactions. Among which the presence of
Islam in the highest levels of power, allied with the laborious
education of the masses at the grassroot levels, have played a crucial
role. In other words, the fact that all ruling systems, which dominated
successively the country, had passed away, while Islam remains the
sole growing force which has made steady progress over several
centuries in the society, is evidence that the religion is the winning
party of this deal. Were it not the (active or passive) presence of Islam
in the realm of politics and education, we are allowed to think that
this religion would not gain such a force of penetration in Senegalese
society and that rulers would have enforced over the people
detrimental ideas and beliefs (ceddo values, animism, Western
conceptions and excesses etc.), without any counterbalancing spiritual
power, since Islamist State is not on the agenda.

Besides, it seems to us relevant, in order to grasp better this

situation, to realize how the form taken by the modern State is
artificial and theoretical in the deepest psychological representations
of Senegalese (and African) people. Indeed, we are conscious that the
thorough analysis of such a peculiar gap goes beyond the scope of this
study. However, if we examine the complex psychological
relationship the broad mass of Senegalese people (or even Black
African people) have always maintained somewhat with the modern
State and their particular conception of public wealth and assistance,
we would see that the case of the Murids must be considered, to many
extents, with regard to the most general case of the progressive
acclimatization of the Western model of State to the traditional
African model of kingdom. We could also argue that the Republican
form (which is still translated in Wolof by nguur gi—kingship or
enjoyment deriving from power) has not taken yet its full meaning in
our society, as it would be the case with other peoples whose histories
have led them “naturally” to this system. Africa was regularly forced
by history to change brutally its way of thinking and to adopt
overnight systems generated elsewhere. Thus, Senegalese (or African)
people seem often to feel some modern forms of organizations as
Western systems imposed from outside and with which they are just
compelled to cope and to adapt to their most basic psychological
leanings. Although new tendencies are progressively developed by
globalization and media, this poses somewhat the more general and
crucial problem of the psychological appropriation or the adjustment
of “external” systems to African peoples to achieve development.

Touba is the World

Bamba’s political approach and practice, further perpetuated by his

successive caliphs (or by other Senegalese clerics), are strongly
influenced by the association of ideological Sufi principles, taught by
Al Ghazali and other masters, with old Senegalese traditional model
of relationship between religion and politics. Nonetheless, there are a
few interesting particularities in the Murid approach which explain,
in our view, the scholarly attention it has drawn hitherto. The special
historical circumstances of the birth of the Murid order are
characterized by tense relationship and distrust of French colonizers
who later laid down a strategy of “accommodation” with the Muslim
power in general, so as to contain it. Such a strategy of cooperation
paved the way to the modern “Senegalese social contract“ which is a
distinctive feature of the current post-independence State.

Other special attributes of the Muridiyya are its extensive

expansion (compared to past Senegalese religious organizations) and
its centrifugal power, symbolized by its pyramidal organization
headed up by the Murid General Caliph. Well-organized one-headed
communities obeying to a central authority have always fascinated

There is another essential doctrinal element, relating to Sheikh

Ahmadou Bamba’s thinking and which is disregarded or ignored by
most of the scholars. Such an element is yet crucial and central to
better understand the nature of Murid political commitment. This
element consists in Murids’ ambition to bring about in Touba Bamba’s
project to build a holy city which will be granted all the facilities liable
to help Muslims to freely live out their faith in the most favorable
conditions. In Bamba’s vision, Touba must be endowed with all
religious infrastructures (mosques, schools, public places and so on)
as well as all material and social facilities (water, healthcare, roads,
flourishing economic activities etc.). Murids consider this project as
the greatest form of khidma (or ligéeyal Serigne Touba) they can perform
and from which they are hoping the Retribution of the Lord, through
the satisfaction (ngërëm) of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba. However, as a
social movement primarily based in the humble peasantry, the Murids
did not have in their disposal all the necessary means (technical,
administrative and others) to carry out exclusively by their own this
major project. The reason why they request public assistance. Touba
has always been at the core of the relationship between the Murid
leadership and public authorities. Because the different Caliphs
conceive their fundamental mission as looking after the general
interest of the community they are (mystically) entrusted by Bamba
himself, and to carry out his projects relating to Touba. So, all public
authorities who have consented in the past to help them, in whatever
form, in this sacred mission were consequentially granted the political
support of their community. And politicians have very often taken
advantage of this frame of mind in bringing their support to Murids’
projects so as to benefit, in return, from the ndigël (voting guidance) or
from tacit support of the caliphs, who often focus essentially on Touba
and on their particular mission out of other external considerations.
The Murid caliphs traditionally regard first themselves as the
representatives of their community’s interests before external actors,
as just other Senegalese communities’ leaders. It seems also to us
really meaningful that, despite the great means entrusted to them by
the disciples and the help of the State, Murids Caliphs have always
lived quite humbly and have invested almost all their properties in
the general interest.

Although this exchange between religious and political leaders

may remind, to some extent, Anglo-Saxon political lobby system,
Murids’ conception differentiate itself from many models by their
reliance on their own financial means and autonomy to carry out their
projects. Because Murids rarely appeal to public help whenever they
think they can manage all by themselves, like founding schools,
cultivating their fields, investing new economic sectors, emigrating
etc. In this instance, it is interesting to know that the first Murid
Caliph called for public help only regarding administrative leave and
technical assistance when he undertook to extend personally the
national railroad from Diourbel to Touba – an unique private initiative
in Senegal’s history. Sheikh Muhammad Mustapha decided to fund
himself all technical work provided by French engineers and the
equipment as well. Murid sheikhs and disciples volunteered for
carrying out manual work and for contributing fully in building the
50 kilometers of railroad (many of them died on the sites during the
two years of work). Touba mosque was also built thanks to Murid
internal means and workforce essentially, and this is still the case in
many current community projects. Such a tradition of self-financing,
despite occasional external contributions and help of the State, has
always been an important feature of the Murids. Contrary to what
seems to be assumed by many writers, Murids have always cultivated
a philosophy of autonomy and of self-financing—which is assuredly a
relevant feature for African underdevelopped communities to
replicate. The State is mainly regarded by Murids as a tool (sometimes
at the hand of people with differing beliefs) to achieve Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba’s vision in Touba and everywhere else. Besides, the
type of help provided by the State, mostly limited to technical and
administrative assistance, is all the more justified since Murids are
among the most important Senegalese taxpayers and since Touba is
the second largest town of the country. The model of self-management
proposed by Touba, where most services are provided by the
community and where we count the least number of humanitarian aid
organizations of the country, deserves great interest for
underdeveloped countries, despite the numerous challenges and
problems it is still facing.

Moreover, it may be of a certain interest to know that the public

help is interpreted by the Murids as a result of Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba’s pleas:
“O Lord! Turn over the hearts of the colonizers and inspire them to
help me instead [in my Service]. Subjugate in my favor every haughty
tyrant. By virtue of Thy Absolute Unity and Thy Power of
Subjugation, prompt my enemies to work for my Bliss.”

However, we have to acknowledge that there have always been

some Murid leaders and disciples who take advantage of this model
of relationship to consolidate their personal interests (administrative
facilities and other advantages devoid of any public interest) in
cultivating compromising relationship with politicians. Such a
reprehensible misuse of the original model (by elements we label as
“Muridopaghous” or dundee yoonu murit in Murid jargon) has
attracted far more interest of many intellectuals and local medias who
are still identifying entirely the Muridiiya to this warped model far
more suitable to their conception of religion as “the opium of the

Although Murid traditional model of political commitment

has produced palpable results in the progress of Islam in Senegal, we
think that this model must now evolve according to new realities and
better adapt to modernity. Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s vision about
progress and adaptability of methods according to particular space
and time implies that Murids are not compelled to duplicate literally
the same approach applied by their predecessors, as valorous as they
may be. So, we think that, though Touba must remain the hub and the
heart of the “Murid dream”, Murids must progressively extend this
concept to all the nation, and - why not? – to all the continent and to
the rest of the world. Touba is more a project of society and a vision of
life than a formal and delimited city, because everywhere a Murid is
living, every place a Muslim is living, is somewhat a part of Touba.
Let us just remember Bamba’s answers to the French Governor
previously mentioned:

“Questions 2 and 3: When was born [the initial founder of the

Muridiyya] and where was he born exactly?
Answer: Whenever and wherever a Muslim was born, this Path was
born in such a place.
Question 6: What are the cities this first founder of the tariqa was
travelling through?
Answer: Every country where Muslims are living is among these

In fact, Murid disciples are already used to naming Touba

everywhere they settle in the world—Touba Thiès, Touba Abidjan,
Touba Johannesburg, Touba New York, Touba London, Touba Paris,
Touba Montreal, Touba Roma. The strategy of geographical expansion
initiated by the Murid pioneers, in founding, throughout the country,
many new villages they were considering as parts of Touba, is another
evidence of the wider meaning of Touba concept. Modern Murid
leadership and disciples, while securing first their personal
community projects, must extend their vision of Touba and globalize it.
They should realize that everywhere a Murid, everywhere a Muslim,
everywhere a human being is living can be a part of Touba.

So, in our view, Murid political commitment must no longer be

exclusively based upon public facilities and public aid provided by
the State in Touba or during community events. But it has to be
broadened to other wider considerations, such as right conduct of
national public affairs by politicians, management abilities, moral
practice etc. Politicians who contented themselves in contributing to
Murid projects, just for political gain, must no longer be automatically
granted electoral backing as long as they are not recognized as able to
manage the country for the general interest. The Muridiyya is not
assuredly the same today as it was fifty years ago and some
considerations which were legitimate and understandable for their
forefathers could no longer be the same for present and upcoming
generations. Most Murids are no longer humble Bawol-Bawol peasants
ranked at the bottom of the social scale. They have got now engineers,
academics, large business managers, doctors, and experts in all
domains. This expertise is just waiting for a suitable framework to
materialize the vision of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba and to better
contribute to the development of the country. The Murid community
must no longer be considered as a mere electoral tank for politicians.
Murids must now be regarded as valuable partners for developing
their country and giving a better picture of Africa and Islam.

Fernand Dumont’s Great Surprise

Another obstacle which prevents most of the western-trained scholars

from having full and easy access to Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s
writings is classical Arabic language the qasidas are written in. Indeed
very few of these scholars can read and understand perfectly Arabic.
And even if it was the case, the allusive forms inherent to Sufi writers’
style and the Sheikh’s frequent use of esoteric terms relating to his
personal spiritual experience would still make it demanding often to
construe accurately his verses.

Arabic-speaking scholars (of the Arab-Islamic world) who

could be expected to show more proficiency on this field proved to be
the least committed in stufying Bamba’s works, due to many reasons.
Currently, the qasidas are written in the North African form of Arabic,
which is not easily readable in the largest part of the Arabic-speaking
world. However other decisive explanations are to be found in the
relative lack of knowledge of Arab-Islamic scholars about Black
Muslims’ history and works. Though Murids can be held as partly
accountable for this lack of global popularization of Bamba’s works,
we content that enduring Arab psychological and cultural
representations of Black Muslims (as former slaves) have also played
a key role in this situation. Another likely reason is the impact of
ideological dissensions among Islamic differing visions (notably
between Sufi and Muslim rationalists), knowing that Senegalese

approach of Islam, base on the brotherhoods, is largely criticized in
leading Muslim nations like Saudi Arabia.

In addition to mastering perfectly classical Arabic (which can

even be quite incomprehensible to many modern Arabic-speaking
people), there are other prerequisites most recommended before
undertaking the hermeneutics of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s qasidas
few of the social scientists who studied the Muridiyya really meet.
These criteria are—knowing perfectly the ideological and spiritual
concepts and basis of Islam, the different notions at work in the Qur-
ãn and in the Hadiths and their subtle existing interpretations by the
different ideological schools, Islamic knowledge as conveyed by
religious books of reference, the model of ascending maqamãt
(spiritual degrees) of the Sufis and their various hãl (spiritual states),
Bamba’s allusions to his own biographical unknown events, the Sufi
terminology used by the Sheikh - though sometimes revised and
reinterpreted in his writings - etc.

Therethrough, the most advanced and extensive works

devoted to the doctrinal basis of the Muridiyya and to Bamba’s
philosophy were somewhat impeded by these limits. So was the case
with Fernand Dumont’s commendable efforts, synthesized in his book
“La Pensée Religieuse d’Amadou Bamba”, in which he tried to study
some of Bamba’s writings. In spite of Dumont’s real merit to explore
this so far neglected field and a certain proficiency in Islamic and Sufi
history and concepts, one must however confess that he often
encountered several difficulties to construe exactly Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba’s allusive and metaphorical style Dumont was not really
familiar with. This led him often to construe quite literally many
verses and to distort, though involuntarily, their true meanings. In
spite of Dumont’s broad knowledge of Sufism, we also happen to
notice here and there some confusions and his inability to unearth
numerous allusions taken from the Qur-ãn, Hadith and other
references. The French scholar was also a little impeded by his
absolute need to categorize Bamba’s thinking according to some
classical well-known Sufi tendencies and authors he saw the Sheikh
referred to in some of his earlier poems. Furthermore, Dumont was
more interested to prove the perfect orthodoxy of Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba’s thought, contrary to the criticism of heterodoxy made by the
upholders of “Black Islam”, rather than studying Bamba’s thought in
itself and exploring all its intellectual potential. In a way, Dumont was
on the defensive, just like many Murid scholars, when arguing against
anti-Murid attacks.

Another serious limit of Dumont’s research is the few number

of writings he managed to collect in comparison with Bamba’s
numerous qasidas. As he himself admitted, he gathered 41 brochures
of qasidas, containing about 30,000 verses and 4,000 prose lines. Then
he was quite convinced of having in his possession the main part of
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s bibliography and he undertook his
research on this basis. Later, he was compelled to reconsider seriously
his claim in visiting some Murid traditional museums (called bayti),
where numerous trunks of qasidas were jealously kept, as shown by
this anecdote related by Pr. Amar Samb, who travelled with him then
(cf. Samb’s book “Essai sur la contribution du Sénégal à la littérature
d’expression arabe”):

“Mr. F. Dumont, who thought he had in his possession the whole

collection of Ahmadou Bamba’s writings, with about 30,000 verses,
couldn’t hide his great surprise when we took him at some Murid
disciples’ houses where these latter took out of some trunks numerous
versified books of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba Dumont never saw before.
In September 1969, we paid another visit to Moustapha M’Backé, a
great-son of the founder of the Muridiyya, who told us; “This
collection of qasidas is the famous Fulk ul-mashun (The Full Ship).
Serigne Hamzatou Diakhaté hand-copied a part of it while another
part is written by my grand-father himself [Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba].
Know that all the poems which are in this [second] collection are
composed in acrostic with verses of the Qur-ãn. And I hold at home
seven and a half other similar trunks full of my grand-father’s

Though held by other scholars, like Vincent Monteil, as the
“greatest reference regarding scholarship on Bamba’s writings”,
Dumont had then to confess the serious deficiencies of his incomplete
inventory, which should be yet the first step enabling him to have an
overall vision of Bamba’s thought. F. Dumont entrusted then to the
coming generations of Murid disciples the mission to carry on this
challenging task which seemed not to him insurmountable:

“It is necessary to undertake special studies [of Sheikh Ahmadou

Bamba’s writings], external and internal studies quite similar to those
carried out with the Qur-ãn, making due allowances.”, Dumont

Wave Eight
The Last of the Written Miracles

Indeed this task may seem so much enormous that it could dissuade
some scholars, as acknowledged it the late Pr. Amar Samb who was in
charge of showing Senegalese authors’ contribution to Arabic-
language literature by the Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire
(IFAN, Dakar). During a public lecture in 1977, he emphasized that
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba is “the most prestigious Muslim poet, and the
most prolific author of all Arab-Islamic literature”. Then, he admitted
plainly his feeling of distress at the point of undertaking such a
challenging work;

“I cannot hide my unrest at the face of such a challenging task, even if

I am feeling greatly honored to be chosen for this purpose. My
apprehension is all the more well-founded that it seems to me that the
founder of the Muridiyya has spent his whole lifetime in writing. We
would certainly need an entire lifetime to estimate accurately the
writings of the founder of the Muridiyya.”

Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s Treasure-Houses

However, non-Murid scholars were not the only ones to face obstacles
in analyzing Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s thinking through his writings.
Although Murid disciples hold in high regard the qasidas, most of

them are rather used to focus more on their “mystical” dimensions
and on strictly worshipping concerns, in reciting them regularly, than
exploring their full ideological and intellectual potentials (though
such a reciting is greatly praiseworthy and spiritually useful). There
are however some Murid scholars who have tried to work in this field
in the past, but many attempts were impeded by a certain lack of
methodology and too much concern about transcendental
considerations, which prevented them sometimes from taking real
interest in the intellectual significance of the qasidas. West African
societies’ tendency to favor more laudatory aspects, through selective
oral tradition and hagiography, instead of methodical analysis
contributed also to this situation.

However one of the key factors, which hindered as well

external scholars as Murids scholars, is the absence up to date of a
major scientific initiative planning to collect and to study thoroughly
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s writings. Presently most of the qasidas are
published through private and unorganized initiatives, and are very
simply presented on newsprint paper printed in the big Senegalese
cities or abroad. Unformal conditions of publishing have also favored
clerical errors and the publication of differents versions of a same
qasida or even apocryphal poems. Important efforts have been made
in the past, mainly by the third Murid caliph, Sheikh Abdoul Ahad, to
make an inventory of the qasidas and to assemble them in collections
called dĩwãn or majmũha, kept at Touba public library and other
traditional Murid museum, called bayti.

However these collections have not yet been subject to the

substantial academic works which could facilitate their studies to
most scholars. There is neither a well-organized and far-sighted
strategy within the Murid community to spread Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba’s teachings and writings throughout the world, as it is often
the case with many modern religious communities, except isolated
initiatives of few Murid leaders or dahiras (Murid associations).
Hence, apart from the worthy French translations of Bamba’s main
books devoted to religious knowledge, by the late Serigne Sam
Mbaye, we can say that Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s writings are not yet
translated to international languages. Furthermore, Murid disciples
are not used to set up, until now, cultural centers and institutes liable
to promote international academic studies on the intellectual,
ideological and spiritual legacies of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba. It is true
that Murids have founded numerous daaras (religious schools) in
Senegal, where many were educated and taught. This traditional
educational system, in spite of the real efforts made to modernize it, is
still experiencing problems to integrate fully the new advances in
sciences and technologies liable to develop conditions of extensive

Unfortunately, seeking and spreading knowledge, as

constantly and strongly recommended by the Sheikh, is often the
parent pauvre of our initiatives, in favor for lesser important social
activities in which too many financial and human resources are daily
spent. Such a situation is assuredly worsened by the underdeveloped
conditions of most African countries which prompt often people to
seek for means rather than meanings. Other likely reasons are the
unfavorable and difficult conditions for local research in Senegal,
characterized by lack of means and support, and the
“hyperpoliticization” of Senegalese public democratic life which
presently prioritize political issues and judicial scandals on the media
over scholarly issues. The lack of full commitment of a large part of
the Murid leadership in this important field and their lack of keen
awareness of its true importance are another major reason which
explains this situation, in our view. In spite of unfailing Himmah and
commitment to Khidma, the Murid community, which are yet
endowed with many potentials, often meet real difficulties to adapt
their methods of organization to modernity and to rationalize their
means for the most important and most useful priorities.

And yet, Murids would be the first to benefit directly from

studies clarifying more the true thinking of their spiritual leader.
Because practice often shows that many Murid disciples cannot really
tell apart what, in the Muridiyya, belongs truly to Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba’s teachings and what originates from Wolof tradition and
folklore, or from ideological internal deviations. This difficulty, which
is often increased by the lack of serious studies on Bamba’s writings
and on his real history, entails many misconceptions and drifts by
some Murid disciples and leaders (too much folklore, confusions, and
misbehaviors). Deviations which have nothing to do with Bamba’s
authentic teachings and which have always fueled clichés on the
Muridiyya. Thus, studying methodically Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s
literary legacy would help Murids lay down clearly his accurate
opinion on many issues, and to put forward a lesser “empirical”
approach to the doctrine of the Muridiyya, which opens up the way to
any eccentric misconception, as is often the case today.

Moreover, since most eye-witnesses of Sheikh Ahmadou

Bamba’s life have passed away, it is all the more important for Murids
to agree on a more steady reference system, based on his writings and
on other accredited sources. This is, relatively speaking, the same case
with the collecting of the Qur-ãn into a final text initiated by the third
well-guided Muslim Caliph, or with the inventory of the hadiths and
later necessary tasks carried out thereon by the meritorious imams
Bukhari and Muslim. Murid scholars, and other students of the
Muridiyya from all around the world, have the heavy burden to
explore the “treasures” bequeathed by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba to
humankind. Such treasures he described in this verse:

“My treasures are the Qur-ãn, the Hadiths and the Rules of Ethics;
but not at all hoarding money and gold.”

Qasaid Project

This crucial mission was primarily entrusted to Murid disciples by F.

Dumont, when he realized the difficulty to study Bamba’s writings in
spite of his personal efforts:

“It seems to me desirable that clear-sighted Murids undertake to carry

out methodically a task which is not truly impossible—the inventory
of all the writings of their venerated Sheikh ... Afterward, they should
try to make a chronological classification [of those writings] which
is the first step to analytical classification. They should as well
consider publishing a new standardized and exhaustive edition of
these writings. This would not prevent, of course, other separated
editions to be published, as it is presently the case, so as to permit to
the masses to draw therefrom their fundamentals of religious
education. After this first step, they could collect all stories reported
by people who were living with the Sheikh, in order to write his true
history. Later, specialized studies could be carried out and devoted
to Bamba’s phenomenon; because the social significance of his
thought leads to the social importance of the Muridiyya.”

A major initiative, called QASAID Project [Qasaid is the plural

of qasida], is currently carried out on this purpose by Majalis
Research Project (, which aims to pave the way for
future more extensive research. This important initiative, presently
performed at the Institut KHadimou RAssoul (IKHRA) in Dakar
(Senegal), is divided into 3 main phases, and each phase is divided
into several stages. The 3 phases deal with :
- Phase 1, devoted to collecting and to research on Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba’s personal books (qasidas),

- Phase 2, devoted to Bamba’s correspondence, to the

worldwide works about the Muridiyya and to the authentication of
historical reports relating to Bamba and to the Muridiyya,

- Phase 3, devoted to collecting and to research on the works of

other Murid authors (Wolofal and the like) and of the other
Senegalese Muslim authors (Qãdirĩ, Tijãnĩ and others).

The first phase is structured around 7 main stages:

1. Gathering of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s personal books
(qasidas) from accredited dĩwãns,
2. Digitalization (scanning and typewriting),
3. Correction of clerical errors,
4. Analysis and Classification in databases and softwares,
5. Translation in international languages,
6. Research works by a multidisciplinary team of researchers,
7. Publishing in different modern formats.
The first step enabled already Majalis Project to gather 1,236
poems (cf. from the first class of the 7
accredited dĩwãn collected by the late Serigne Modou Diagne of Touba
Public Library (which are complementary to the six other official
dĩwãn collected by Sheikh Abdoul Ahad, the third Caliph). Compare
these 1,236 qasidas with the 41 brochures collected by Fernand
Dumont! The process of typewriting is currently in progress in
IKHRA (January 2009) and the complete methodology of the Qasaid
Project is described in Majalis website.

Dealing with Methodology

The research works stage should involve a multidisciplinary team of

researchers in charge of elaborating methodologies and approaches
liable to better explore Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s thought about many
interesting and topical issues. Many modern problematics could then
be reanalyzed in the light of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s philosophy
and understanding of Islam—features of perfect human society,
human freedom, democracy, human relationship, gender issues,
jihad, nonviolence, peaceful coexistence between human civilizations
and communities, ethics, useful knowledge, worship, work, wealth,
importance of his work doctrine for poor African countries, etc.

Lateral hermeneutics of terms and concepts used by the Sheikh,

through thousands of verses gathered in databases and accessible
instantly via software and websites, would be of great interest. New
research methods on this field and a more exhaustive approach could
certainly help in avoiding the common mistake made by a few
scholars in quoting some of Bamba’s verses alone to back up their
ideas. Indeed, if we recall that Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s thought was
progressing continuously, we would realize that he happened
sometimes to change notably his mind about a particular question.
His beliefs in the fundamental principles and Pillars of Islam have
never changed, but his degree of certainty and the quality of his
spiritual insight varied through time. Thence, only a chronological
classification of his writings could, in such instances, gives us an
accurate idea of his definitive thinking - though the cases in which he
changes radically his view are relatively few. This is typically the
same mistake made by many modern exegetes of the Qur-ãn who
often content themselves in quoting some particular verses (out of
their spatiotemporal contexts) to uphold their ideological views
without taking into account other verses which tone down their
primary meanings or which specify their special circumstances and
limits. All scholars who undertake to study the Holy Book or other
spiritual writings must bear in mind this dynamic dialectics.

The interesting case of the dĩwãn collected by the late Serigne

Modou Diagne of Touba Public Library is a good example showing
the importance of making Bamba’s writings chronological
classification. In fact Serigne Modou Diagne undertook to collect only
the qasidas written after 1322 h. (1902), which is an important turning
point in Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s spiritual rise, as he attested
himself. The reason why Serigne Modou Diagne chose particularly
this moment is based on a text where the Sheikh asserted that his
writings from that year are endowed with great benefits. As for what
he had written prior to that date, they are not approved by the Lord
(or is not intended to be read), the reason why Serigne Modou
disregarded them. However other Murid scholars emphasized the
limits of such reasoning, because when the Sheikh made such a
statement, he was in a certain level of his mystical journey. So, when
the Lord revealed him that He has approved eventually all his
writings, during all his service for the Prophet (which started in 1301
h.), he wrote:

“[O Lord!] Thou have approved all I have written, from 1301 to [this
present year] 1332. But Thou informed me thereof only in 1330 [in
revealing me that Thou wilt approve henceforth all my services].”

“Thou have dispelled all my hardships, o Thou that have approved all
my services!”

It is noteworthy that Bamba undertook to rewrite or to revise

many of his earlier books, due to his higher spiritual degree and
insight which conferred on them more mystical value, according to
him. He was even considering some of those old writings as sins for
which he asked humbly God’s forgiveness. Though their quite
compliance with perfect orthodoxy of the common worshippers, the
Sheikh was regarding himself in the wrong in considering some of his
earlier writings, compared with his current degree of knowledge and
certainty. As goes the famous saying; “The Good Deeds of the
Virtuous are considered as sins by the Neighbouring Elite” (Hasanatul
Abrãr Sayyiãtul Muqarrabĩn).

Another example showing the importance to date accurately

Bamba’s writings (whenever possible) is his book entitled “Tazawudu
Cighãr” (A Viaticum for the Children), devoted to the fundamentals
of religious rituals. This book is commonly ranked by most of the
scholars (even by Cheikh Babou) among the first books written by the
Sheikh during his youth (in Mbacke Cayor), due to its title and its
theme which seem to imply it. However, a close examination of its
content may show that this book, although devoted primarily to the
youth, was written after the exile to Gabon. First, the Sheikh took the
habit to introduce himself in almost all his earlier writings in such
terms as “As a disciple of my father, I say” (Khãla ibn shayhihi). This is not
the case in this book which begins with:

“The one named Ahmad who pays infinite tribute to his ABSOLUTE
MASTER and who regards himself as a subject of GOD and the
Servant of the Prophet, says:”

Secondly, all the specialists of the qasidas know that the nature of
Bamba’s writing prior to his exile and after his return from Gabon is
quite different. Because, one may feel in his after-exile writings (called
ginaaw geej gi, literally “after-ocean”) more self-assurance in his
spiritual certainty and in the Favors the Lord granted him through the
long years of ordeals. Which is not noticed in his first writings. The
fact is we can find many spiritual favors he claimed, here and there, in
A Viaticum for the Children, though its being an initiation book. This is,
moreover, a valuable clue showing the fact that attaining high
spiritual degrees in mystical knowledge (haqĩqa or m’arifa) did never
prevent the Sheikh from emphasizing the high significance to comply
with the legal rules of worship (Shari'a). Sufi history is rich of masters
whose high mystical degrees led to depreciate formal rules of worship
they held as less important than Gnostic knowledge and designed for
the common run of believers.

Multidisciplinary teams of researchers would include as well

Murid scholars as non-Murid scholars, Muslim scholars as well as
non-Muslim scholars, who must all be skilled in a particular relevant
field—Islamic Theology, Sufism, history of Islam, philosophy,
economy, sociology, anthropology, political science, developing
strategies etc. This may be really interesting, seeing that Murids’
natural immersion in the cultural, spiritual, social and literary milieu
of the Muriddiya could be of great use to avoid many previous
common mistakes. Though this is commonly doubted by authoritative
academic standards, the spiritual experience of believing scholars
may be of great help inasmuch as spiritual and mystical intuition are
sometimes crucial to fathom the individual mystical experience and
perspective of a Sufi master. Because only a believer who has really
practiced the same spiritual exercises the Sufi was practicing (Dhikr,
reciting and meditating on the Qur-ãn, prayers, spending nights in
worshipping, fasting, khidma and other religious practices), those who
have really “tasted the flavor” of Divine Favors, can bear witness to
their reality. How an unbelieving scholar could really penetrate
mystical secrets of the Qur-ãn claimed by the Sufis (out of pure
theoretical conjecture), if he even doubt inwardly about the reality of
the Revelation and the truthfulness of Muhammad? Academic norms
of scientific objectivity, though necessary and useful, can sometimes
impact seriously research on spirituality which is, by nature,
“subjective”, in the sense of a phenomenon personally experienced
and which can be communicated only to such a one who is sharing
the same beliefs. Actually this norm compels all scholars aiming to get
their PhDs or to be well received in the scientific milieu to act
ideological comedy and to write “as if”. Presently, believing
researchers are often obliged, while dealing with spiritual issues, to
think and to write as if they do not believe, if they really care about
“academic objectivity”. As for unbelieving scholars, they are also
forced to admit theoretically believing premises and dogma, were it
just to better grasp their topics, while doubting inwardly of all
spiritual material they are given. Doubt can assuredly be of great use
to avoid biases, but faith does not imply subjectivity and unreliability.
The glaring differing perspectives and interpretations between Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba and the colonizers about the true nature of their
relationship and the deepest meanings of historical events have
caused enduring misunderstandings, until today. As for the non-
Murid and non-Muslim scholars, less prone to admit some apparent
evidences, they will help the team in keeping the necessary distance
and objectivity to academic research, if needed.

This methodology will contribute much in setting out Bamba’s

teachings in a more modern and more neutral form to many all
around the world who could be really interested in the new and fertile
perspectives they are offering to the world today. In fact, this will
solve also, to some extent, the paradox of the Wolof form in which
migrant Murid disciples are trying currently to spread Bamba’s
teachings in their host societies. Because many of them often confuse
Murid doctrine and Wolof social values (as we put it often, “we must
not confuse Muridiyya with Wolofity, as some have confused Islam
and Arabity”). This approach would also contribute to get many
Murid scholars out of “the defensive trap” they are presently confined
by the numerous groundless and shallow critics, during the past
decades of short-sighted scholarship, and by harsh ideological
antagonisms of Muslim rationalists. They could, in so doing, perceive
fully the richness and the modern agenda of Sheikh Ahmadou
Bamba’s thinking which has no cause to be jealous of other thinkers in
history, belonging to other civilizations. Well, we have had enough of
Marty and other outdated issues! It is now high time to explore
forthrightly and without any complex what Bamba offers to
humankind for the coming centuries, isn’t it?

Another important element which must be taken into account by

Murids, while studying the writings of their Sheikh, is to update his
teaching to modern circumstances he was not living in, whenever
need be. Such a principle may assuredly seem “blasphemous” to some
undiscerning Murids. But any who really grasps the true meaning of
Bamba’s mission of renewal (tajdĩd) should be convinced that, despite
the exceptional spiritual degrees of Bamba and of many of his
successors, we must always differentiate immutable principles from
specific methods suitable to particular spaces and times. Because
methods must not be held as sacred as far as it is proven than others
may be far more beneficial, as well in this world than in the Hereafter.
Bamba himself seemed to be very conscious of this necessity to
constantly update our methods and tools, when, for instance, he
prayed the Lord to give him a (spiritual) offspring in charge of
perpetuating his mission of tajdĩd:

“[O Lord!] Grant me virtuous and persevering descendants who will

renew the Path of the Elected Messenger.”

Thus, it is our contention that Murids should reexamine in the

future many aspects of their traditional organization (without falling
into the trap of modern secularity, however), the nature and the form
of their political commitment, the activities deserving first and
foremost their financing. They should as well emphasize scientific and
secular teaching in their educational system, while fastening on to
their spiritual values. They should modernize their methods of
working without any complex, if they really want to comply with the
ideology advocated by their Sheikh and keep up his spiritual and
intellectual legacies. Murids must also professionalize many projects
and tasks. While maintaining the principle of voluntary khidma, they
should also learn to remunerate important internal and external
expertise liable to carry out Bamba’s vision in better conditions.

Although this long journey into “Bamba-Ocean” may reveal

sometimes unforeseen new landscapes to many, present and coming
Murid generations must get ready to make the trip. However they
should, in so doing, beware overstepping the limits of “useful
knowledge” advised by their Sheikh. They must avoid falling into the
traps of heightened intellectual dissensions aroused, in some societies,
in the past, by too much tendency to ethereal and subjective
speculation. Murid scholars should as well learn to be gradually
familiar with the true history of their community and the true basis of
their doctrine. Although a long tradition of wise “Pax Senegalensis”
taught their people to handle with great care raw historical material
and scientific data, to learn self-censorship (maslaa or sutura in Wolof)
and to “let bygones be bygones” so as to ensure the social stability of
their nation and society. Violent clashes and old visceral hatred
between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the Arab world, fostered by long
historical and political differing views and conceptions, confirm
assuredly how the principle of “useful knowledge” claimed by Sheikh
Ahmadou Bamba may be of certain interest.

“Useful knowledge is not that which fills the heart with envy,
resentment, arrogance and going astray. Or that which incites unto
animosity, controversies and endless verbal sparring. Or that which
prompts unto presumptuousness, self-praising and aggressiveness. Or
that which leads unto quarrelling, quick-temperance, deceitfulness and
Useful knowledge is that which fills its bearer with Fear (Taqwã) of
GOD, the CREATOR of the servants. That which inspires humility,
asceticism, Ethics (Adab), self-effacement and the awareness of one's
weakness [before GOD]. That which purifies the heart, helps in
mastering the soul and prevents man from transgressing the Orders of
the MAKER.” (Masãlik, v. 165-168, 114-116)

In a word, we are deeply convinced that if we manage to

gather the main part of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s writings and
spiritual legacy, to carry out due studies thereon, to translate them in
all widespread languages, to promote their teachings throughout the
world, we could contribute significantly to alter existing biases
against Islam, to appease tense relationship in the world today and to
remind to all humankind the true significance of their stay on earth.

Bambaa di geej
Gu tàbbi geej

Fekk fa geej
Gu ne ko ngiij

Mu duy ca leer ya ba ne ngiij

Ñibbisi tooyal Xarnubi

Bamba is an Ocean of Lights

Who melted into the Ocean of the Prophet

And found therein the Ocean of God

Who blended with Him

Both loaded him with shining Lights

Which poured down over humankind

In the poem Xarnubi by Sheikh Moussa Ka

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January 2009